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VERIFY: Does DC have more police per capita than any other US city?

Our Verify team looked at data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations and discovered the answer depends on whether you compare DC to all cities or just big ones.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Police units responds to the scene of an emergency.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — QUESTION:

Does D.C. have more police per capita than any other U.S. city?

ANSWER:

When you look at ALL U.S. cities, including some really small ones, no, D.C. doesn’t have the highest police per capita, but when you look at populous cities -- a quarter of a million residents or more -- D.C. does.

SOURCES:

FBI- 2018 Crime in the United States- Table 78- "Full-time Law Enforcement Employees by State by City, 2018"

PROCESS:

The FBI collects law enforcement employment data through its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. 

Our Verify team looked at a table the FBI published on the number of law enforcement employees by city and by state in 2018.

For its methodology, the FBI said it used 2018 employment data from law enforcement agencies, and 2018 population estimates based on previous Census data.

Here's how the UCR Program broke down the number of law enforcement employees:

"The UCR Program defines law enforcement officers as individuals who ordinarily carry a firearm and a badge, have full arrest powers, and are paid from governmental funds set aside specifically to pay sworn law enforcement. Civilian employees include full-time agency personnel such as clerks, radio dispatchers, meter attendants, stenographers, jailers, correctional officers, and mechanics."

Given the UCR Program's definition, to fact-check the claim about police per capita, the Verify team compared total officers, not civilian employees.

From there, our researchers calculated the per capita rate by dividing the total officers by each city’s population.

According to the table, in 2018 D.C. employed 3,841 officers and had a population of 702,455, which calculated to a rate of about 547 officers for every 100,000 people who live in the District. 

If you look at all cities included in the table, D.C. does not have the highest police per capita rate. Some smaller cities beat it out. 

For example, Vernon, California, whose population in 2018 totaled 113 people and whose police force included 38 officers, had a police per capita much higher than D.C.'s at about 33,628 officers per 100,000 people.

Credit: FBI- UCR Program
The Verify team calculated the officer per capita rate for US cities, using the FBI's UCR Program table on law enforcement employment in 2018.


According to the FBI's 2018 data, 1,522 people lived in Rehoboth Beach, and the city employed 17 police officers. That brought their police per capita rate to about 1,117 officers per 100,000 people.

But what happens when you only look at cities with a population of 250,000 or more?

In a landslide, the D.C. rate of about 547 officers per 100,000 people is the highest.

Chicago comes in second with a rate of 483 officers per 100,000 people, and New York City is in third with a rate of about 424 officers per 100,000 people.

So, our Verify researchers found that when you look at all U.S. cities, including some really small ones, D.C. doesn’t have the highest police per capita. But when you look at cities with 250,000 or more people, D.C. has the highest rate.

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