Considered by many to be one of the most dangerous cities in America, the City of Camden in New Jersey made the seemingly surprising decision to disband its police force in 2012. Consequently, the County of Camden became responsible for policing the city, creating the Camden County Metropolitan Police Department (known as “The Metro”) with $10 million in state aid (see nj.com for more details). The decision came after financially crippling union contracts and rising crime rates left city officials with few options.

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Camden’s crime level was higher than all comparison cities generated by Govistics in 2011, with the exception of Miami Beach City, FL.

 Following the switch to “The Metro”, Camden experienced a spike in crime as policing levels halved overnight. However, between 2011 and 2013, violent crimes had declined by 30% and non-violent crimes dropped 38%. Given the city’s grim history with crime, how did The Metro turn the trend around?

Their success can be attributed, at least in part, to the implementation of the Real Time Tactical Information Center—a data-driven surveillance system put in place city-wide. According to CIO online, the system includes cameras, ballistics microphones, and a dispatch-integrated GPS system designed to cut response times by far more than half. Images from 120 cameras scattered throughout the city are transmitted back to The Metro, giving officers a window into neighborhoods without necessitating a street presence. Data from surveillance technology is supplemented by performance management data that tracks officers’ patrol habits.

Critics say the system is “big brother-ish” and infringes on the rights of citizens, though the potential of the Real Time Tactical Information Center to fight crime is still unfolding. Despite the risk to privacy, Camden may yet be a pioneer in creating a safer, albeit somewhat futuristic, world.

 

As a polar vortex pummels the northeast with arctic temperatures and endless snow, we can’t help but long for warmer climates. While most of the nation has been experiencing icy weather over the past few weeks, there remains one state where it is a tropical paradise year-round: Hawaii!

Hawaii not only has a unique climate when compared with the rest of the country, but also a unique governing structure. It is the only state to have no municipal governments below the county level; there are no towns, villages, or school districts in the State of Hawaii.

 hawaii

Even the City of Honolulu, home to about 375,000 and 41% of the county’s residents, does not have its own government.  Rather, it is governed by the City and County of Honolulu, an entity that is coterminous with the entire island of Oahu.

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In lieu of municipal services, the state has taken on some of the responsibilities that mainland cities, towns, and villages usually provide.  This includes education, as the Hawaii Department of Education oversees all public and charter schools throughout the state.  The state spends nearly a third of its total budget on education each year, even with spending for social services.

hawaii state spending

So while warm weather and sunnier days are still months away for many of us mainlanders, we can still yearn for the beaches of Hawaii and maybe learn a thing or two about their distinctive approach to government.

It’s that time of year again! In past years, Govistics has brought you public finance data based on a variety of America’s favorite Thanksgiving Day motifs, ranging from the main course to the first voyage of the pilgrims. This year, we pay homage to a time-tested turkey-day staple: football.

Beginning in 1934, the Detroit Lions have hosted a game every year on Thanksgiving and were joined in this tradition by the Dallas Cowboys in 1966.  Earlier this year, we profiled Detroit’s descent into bankruptcy. Adding insult to fiscal injury, Detroit has not won a Thanksgiving Day game since 2003 (Dallas last won in 2011).

Though the Cowboys have outplayed the Lions over the last decade, Detroit in 2011 outspent Dallas on a per resident basis by 41%.

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 detroit spending2

Dallas, with about 1.2 million residents, spent around $2,500 per resident in 2011. This compares to the $4,200 spent per resident in Detroit, home to just under 917,000 residents.

While it often tempting to look at municipalities side by side, varying structures and functions can make comparisons tenuous, especially among cities in different states. For example, Detroit provides residents with a rail and bus transit system, while Dallas’ residents have access only to transportation provided by a private company. Keeping in mind inherent differences between municipalities can make data analysis more meaningful.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Americans have been impacted by the government shutdown in a variety of ways.  Some have been furloughed, others have had their vacations derailed by the closure of state parks, and still others have experienced inconvenience due to closed federal offices and agencies.  The shutdown has also brought to light some of the more bizarre responsibilities of the federal government; the Giant Panda Cam at the National Zoo has been temporarily shut off, and poison ivy-eating goats have been “furloughed” in a New Jersey national recreation area (find out more about the shutdown’s impact).

Here at Govistics and CGR, we often make use of data from the U.S. Census Bureau—a service of the federal government that is suspended until the shutdown is resolved. Visitors to the Census Bureau website now see the following shutdown notice:

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Despite the shutdown, Govistics is still up and running, providing access to local and state government data necessary for school projects, work, or personal research.

 

 

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In Cook County, IL, the jail population rose to over 10,000 inmates in September of 2013—making Chicago home to the most populated single jail site in the nation (according to the Chicago Tribune).  Observers attribute this increase to the closure of the state’s mental health facilities and subsequent arrest of previous mental health patients for new crimes.

Corrections (defined as facilities for the containment and rehabilitation of persons convicted of crimes) cost Cook County nearly $440 million in 2011, or 12% of the total county budget.

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Find out more about crime, corrections, and public finance in Cook County and other counties in Illinois at Govistics.

 

 

Want to stop paying rent or a mortgage? Look no further! In Gary, IN, residents have the opportunity to purchase one of nearly 10,000 vacant homes in the city for the price of one dollar.  According to the New York Times, the Dollar Home program arose in June out of the need to fill in gap-toothed communities and attract permanent tax-payers—a third of Gary’s housing stock is vacant, and the city has lost almost half of its residents since the 1960’s.

Gary’s financial troubles are reflected in its tax revenue. Between 2001 and 2011, tax revenue has fluctuated widely—hitting a decade high of $81 million in 2006 and a decade low of $23 million before reaching $57 million in 2011.

 gary

Around 400 Gary residents picked up applications on the first day of the Dollar Home program, indicating that many residents are hopeful for their city’s future.  One thing is for certain—competition for the first 12 homes is sure to be fierce!

 

The name of Michigan’s largest city has been on the minds of many leaders over the past few weeks. CGR’s own Chief Economist, Kent Gardner Ph.D., examined what killed Detroit in a recent blog post.  Govistics data also help tell the story of Detroit’s tumultuous struggle to regain fiscal stability over the decade—a story we know led to current headlines on bankruptcy.

Both revenue and spending have been below the inflation benchmark since 2005.

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Detroit spending

Fifteen Years of Detroit Revenue and Spending

detroit chart

The above chart (created using Govistics excel downloads) shows that while Detroit’s problems began before 1997, the city’s most recent downward turn began in earnest between 2005 and 2006, when spending and revenue dropped 43% and 38% respectively.  Total revenue plummeted in 2009 due to losses in insurance revenue before recovering slightly in 2010 and 2011.

Can Detroit recover? Stay tuned!

Less than half the number of felons tracked in Nevada with electronic monitoring in 2001 are being tracked there today, according to the Miami Herald.  Public safety officials attribute the 53% decline in tracking to spending cuts and a 2007 law relaxing supervision requirements for offenders.  Did the State of Nevada save by making cuts to the electronic monitoring program?

The only public safety department to experience a decrease in spending over the decade falls under a general category of “Other,” which is defined as the confinement, correction, and rehabilitation of those convicted, adjudicated delinquent, or in need of supervision. Spending for these activities decreased by 8% between 2002 and 2011 in conjunction with the decline in the number of offenders that qualified for electronic monitoring.

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While spending related to supervision decreased between 2002 and 2011, police spending increased by 60% and correction spending by 22% during the same time period.

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Nevada spent $464.7 million on public safety in 2011, compared to $385.4 million in 2002.  Public safety spending dropped below the inflation benchmark for the first time since 2004 and declined by nearly a quarter between 2009 and 2011. Despite these declines and a decrease in supervision spending, public safety expenditures increased by 21% over the decade.

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Take a look at the Miami Herald article to see how changes to the requirements of Nevada’s electronic monitoring program may have influenced public safety spending over the past decade, and don’t forget to check out Govistics’ new data!

 

Every year around this time, it seems like everyone is hitting the beach!  In past years, vacationers flocked to the family-friendly beaches of New Jersey, but losses from Hurricane Sandy have caused some tourists to forego the Jersey Shore despite the state’s prodigious efforts to rebuild.  Some of the hardest hit communities are also the most reliant on recreation revenue, including the Boroughs of Seaside Heights and Belmar.

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Seaside Heights, pre-Sandy

Parks and Recreation revenue accounts for 8% of Seaside Heights’ total revenue and 44% of department revenue, amounting to over $1 million.

Seaside Heights

The pier in the Borough of Belmar was destroyed in the storm, impacting one of Belmar’s largest revenue streams.  Belmar collected over $5 million in Parks and Recreation revenue in 2007, representing over 30% of the borough’s total revenue and 81% of departmental revenue.

Belmar

So when planning your vacation this summer, consider contributed to a recovering community by soaking up some New Jersey rays!

Happy 4th of July from the Govistics team!  In honor of this week’s holiday, we took a look at three key communities linked to American independence.  In 1775, the Revolutionary War began with the “shot heard ‘round the world” at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  Before that, American patriots tossed barrels of tea into the Boston harbor.

Of course, much has changed since the time of Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere! But even in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010 the Massachusetts locales of Concord, Lexington, and Boston have experienced shifts in government spending.

2000

In 2000, Boston spent the most per capita at $4,464, followed by Concord ($3,850) and Lexington ($3,315).

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By 2010, the spending environment had changed—Concord spent the most per capita at $6,444, followed by Lexington ($5,944) and Boston ($5,896).  While all three experienced an increase in spending, Lexington and Concord’s spending increased at a much higher rate than inflation, while Boston’s rate of increase was only minimally higher than that of inflation.

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Boston 2

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As you celebrate America’s birthday this week with corn on the cob, barbequed ribs, and cold lemonade check out your own community’s spending, and see how it stacks up against Concord, Lexington and Boston!

Learn more at Govistics about your hometown and become more informed.