Now the obvious obstacle to all this is cost. The Carbondale Spring, based on our initial estimates, is projected to cost $3,040,000. Let’s assume that everything is always more expensive than one estimates, and put the number at $4,000,000. Now the benefits of such an expense are obvious: it would re-brand Carbondale as a place of serious commitment to the challenges facing our society; it would provide opportunities for more synergy between the city and the University, creating unique research and academic opportunities that are deeply relevant to contemporary economic, social, and political concerns; it would create dozens of well-paying local jobs and retain jobs we have, while improving their quality by transforming employees into worker-owners.
In short, it would take the city in a new, rewarding, and exciting direction.
So where could the $4,000,000 come from to make this a reality?
It turns out Carbondale is massively over-spending on one key aspect of city government: the police. In what follows we show:
a. the population of Carbondale is likely at or below 20,000 people
b. Carbondale has double the national average for both officers and police employees
c. Carbondale spends double the money compared to the national average and to similar cities.
d. The current police pension obligations are a financial time bomb for the city
e. A lot of what the police are being asked to do would be done better by Care Workers
f. If we reduce our police force to a reasonable size, we can fund the Carbondale Spring and transform the city.
a. How Many People Live In Carbondale?
The City Budget is a surprisingly exciting document to look through. Its creators deserve credit for making it remarkably legible compared to many other municipal budgets. This allows all of us with an internet connection to look under the hood at the functioning of city government. The opening statement by city manager Gary Williams even has a little section on “the future,” in which we are warned that “the organization of the city must reflect the needs and size of the community.” Wise words.
One can’t help but feel a little skeptical, however, when a few pages later we encounter a small chart supposedly showing the 2017 population of the city.
FY2019 Carbondale City Budget gives a 2017 population of 26,1511. Where did this number come from? It is based on an estimate drawn from USA.com2. Another chart on that website shows that the population of Carbondale has increased by 27.53% since 2000!
The city government of Carbondale took its own population data from a website that thinks the population has increased over 27% in the last 19 years. Let that sink in for a moment.
The US Census website itself gives a slightly different estimate: 25,899. A mild drop from previous years, but not by much. They came up with that estimate based on a questionnaire, one which was no doubt filled out by the same folks who made the budget. There is an upcoming census in 2020, and we could wait around for more accurate numbers. But we can also use our heads a bit.
We know that in 2010, the census found the population of Carbondale to be 26,533. We also know that in 2010, SIUC had 20,037 students enrolled. In most circumstances, college students are counted by the census as residents of the town they go to school in. While certainly not all of the students enrolled in 2010 lived in Carbondale – some live in Murphysboro, Makanda, etc. – it is safe to assume that the vast majority of them did, and would have been counted as residents of Carbondale in the census.
SIU enrollment has dropped significantly since 2010. Fall of 2018 enrollment was 12,817, down 36% since 2010. I don’t know about you all, but I haven’t seen a flood of new residents moving in to make up for that many students being lost. In fact, I have seen a lot of people moving away.
Let’s assume that the estimate given in the city budget is way off and that, in fact, the population of Carbondale has dropped about 30% in the last decade – an estimate that, I suspect, fits with many of our informal perceptions. That gives us an estimated 2019 population of 18,574. If we assume that about 10,000 SIU students live in Carbondale, that puts our non-student resident estimate at around 8500. That number squares with numbers people working for the city have mentioned in conversation. In what follows, just to be conservative in our reasoning, we’ll assume that the total population of Carbondale is 20,000.
b. The Number of Police in Carbondale
Over the last few decades, at the city, state, and federal level, social services have been cut dramatically. This has often been framed as a crusade “against government,” but that’s not exactly accurate. Its been a transfer of priorities of governments, which have cut the social service arm of the state in order to fund its policing and incarceration functions.
On February 12, 2019, two new officers were sworn in before the city council meeting. They were part of the “lateral-hire” program, hired on with experience from other cities. Its not clear whether these two new officers constitute an addition to the numbers given in the city budget, or if they are replacement hires. We’ll assume that they are replacement hires, and go with the numbers given in the FY 2019 budget to assess the size of the Carbondale Police Department.
According to the budget, there are 83.33 employees in the Carbondale Police Department, which is 32% of all city employees. (FY2019 City Budget, pg.122)
Of these 83.33 employees, 63 are police officers (i.e., they can make arrests), and 20.33 are civilian staff (technicians, administrative assistants, etc.).(FY2019 City Budget, pg. 125) These might seem like normal numbers, because we don’t often think about the size of the police force. But if you look around at other cities and national averages, you’ll find that Carbondale actually has an outrageously large police department for a city its size.
According to a 2016 FBI survey of 773 police departments, serving and protecting cities with populations between 25,000-50,000 residents, the average number of officers/10,000 residents is 17, while the average total police employees for cities in that range is 21.2.
How does Carbondale measure up relative to this average? Based on our assumption that the population of Carbondale is 20,000, the city of Carbondale employs 31.5 officers/10,000 people, and 41.66 total employees/10,000 people. That is 85% more officers and 96% more total police employees than average for a city of 20,000. Out of the 1485 cities surveyed, Carbondale has the 36th highest officer/resident ratio and 25th highest number of police employees/resident ratio. Carbondale is a 20,000 person city policed as if it was twice the size.
One might object that its unfair to compare Carbondale to a “national average,” and that we should compare it instead to similar cities – college towns with roughly the same population. Here is a chart comparing these two data points – officers/10,000 residents and total employees/10,000 – across a few similar cities in Illinois:
As you can see, those cities are at or near the national average, while Carbondale has twice as many officers and more than twice as many employees.
Let’s go further:
Consider also that SIU has a police force of its own consisting of about 35 employees.1 This brings the total number of police employees in Carbondale to about 118. Its hard to figure out how to understand the combination of these two departments. While they cooperate, sharing resources and information, they are also separate and have different jurisdictions.
We might put it like this: for the 10,000 or so students in Carbondale who are policed by both city police and the SIU police, it is as if the number of police/10,000 residents is 78, because they have a police force dedicated just to them, and comprise half of the population being served and protected by the CPD. And if we assume instead that any resident of Carbondale could just as likely be served and protected by the SIU PD as the CPD, depending on which area of the city they happen to be in, then our total number of police employees/10,000 residents is 59. Here’s a chart of that:
An SIU student being served and protected by both departments is being policed by a force that, on average, would be deployed to handle a population of 56,000 people.
But let’s leave the SIU PD aside for what follows, since the $5,300,961.49 (see pg. 43) that SIUC spends on serving and protecting its students is for the University community to worry about. Our focus is the city government, which, as we’ve shown, is way over-policed compared to both the national average and comparable cities.
c. Spending on Police
How much do cities usually spend on police? According to Bureau of Justice statistics, a city our size will spend, on average, $238/resident. For a population of 20,000 then, we should expect the city of Carbondale to spend about $4,760,000 per year. According to the FY2019 budget, the city plans to spend $10,108,864 on the police department. (City Budget, pg.127) That’s $505.44/resident, or 112% more than average. Recall again that we are being very conservative in our estimate regarding Carbondale’s population, and that half of those residents – the students – are also served and protected by another police force.
How much money does the city have? According to the budget, the total city expenditures for FY2019 will be $54,175,456. This includes everything city pays for:
Then there’s the General Fund, which totals $25,125,717. The General Fund is what all the different city departments are paid out of. The City Budget has lots of wonderful pie charts throughout, but for some reason there wasn’t a pie chart for the General Fund, which is a central aspect of the budget. So we made one:
The Police accounts for 40.23% of the city’s General Fund, more than twice the cost to that fund of any other department. So is Carbondale spending a lot more than other cities on its police?
Yes. Carbondale spends a lot more per resident than other comparable cities (i.e., small-ish college cities) in Illinois1:
As you can see, Carbondale is spending significantly more money per resident on police protection services, when compared both with the national average and with similar municipalities. Any way you look at it, Carbondale is over-policed and its costing us. And, if we take a look at the police pensions, it becomes clear that those costs are only going to go up.
d. Police Pensions
In November of 2018, the city of Carterville raised property taxes by 30% in order to fund police and fire pensions. Last year, the funds needed by Carterville to meet police pension obligations alone more than doubled, from $122,000 to more than $271,000. The State of Illinois has mandated that pensions be 90% funded by municipalities by the year 2045, as a result of its strategy to “solve” the state fiscal crisis by pushing costs onto municipalities.
The DeKalb city budget puts the issue of pensions right up front, admitting than an extra $300,631 is needed to meet the pension obligation of $3,079,438, which is the municipality’s share of pension contributions owed for a department of 73 total employees (in a college city with more than double Carbondale’s population). Pensions are also directly addressed in Effingham’s budget and in Normal’s. But there is not much discussion of police pensions in Carbondale’s budget. We see that there is a policeman’s pension tax levy that is expected to accrue $755,592. There are police retirement benefits as a line item in the police budget to the tune of $2,640,350 – up about 150% from 10 years ago.
Many young people might not know what a “pension” is. Having never expected job security or a retirement, it may come as a shock to learn that the police will both retire, and receive a paycheck for the rest of their lives after they have stopped working. For example, Chief Grubbs, who currently makes $131,105.52/year, can expect to receive about half of that – around $65,000/year, every year until he dies.
The only real discussion we see of the pension funding in the FY2019 City Budget comes in a brief paragraph on the Real Estate Levy tax passed by City Council. There we learn that the public safety pension plan contributions are expected to rise 7% every year, and that taxes will have to go up to keep funding it. But the Real Estate Levy tax, even if it were raised 5%/year as projected can’t keep up with the 7% rise in pension costs every year, without a public referendum to allow for a higher tax rate. And if the city could do that, it would mean property taxes spiraling upward to keep up with the demands for public safety pensions.
Just how much is going to the police pension fund? Its not exactly clear in the City Budget, but we can find these numbers in the Annual Statement of the Carbondale Police Pension Fund, available through the Illinois Department of Insurance website. The police pension fund, which is overseen by a city appointed board, currently has $24,584,062. The police, after they spend a career serving and protecting us, are well taken care of, especially when you realize that the “rate of funding” for the Carbondale Police Pension is only 49% – meaning, it is “at risk” of not being funded enough, because the actual size of the pension obligations to the Carbondale Police Department is $50,171,555.
In 2018, according to the Illinois State Department of Insurance, the city of Carbondale contributed $2,403,443, which means 9% of the General Fund went to police retirement alone. In five years, at the rate of 7% growth predicted by the FY2019 City budget, that number will grow by about a million dollars. In 10 years it will double. In 16 years it will triple. In about 20 years it will quadruple.
Assume for a moment that Carbondale is not going to “turn around” in any miraculous way. That the strange window opened up in the wake of the second World War, and which was skillfully taken advantage of by Delyte Morris, is simply no more. Say we are going to be a small, humble town, with a smallish University. There are no plans on offer from our politicians to suggest any other future.
If that indeed is our future, then not only are we currently way over-policed, but the entitlements that today’s officers are anticipating are a financial time bomb that will bankrupt the city.
11 years from now is the year that there will be no turning back from catastrophic climate change. 23 years from now is the year that current projections put forward for food shortages, wildfires, and mass die-offs of coral reefs – unless we radically and immediately transform our way of life. Another 8 years after that, there will likely be no more fish in the ocean.
But there’s good news. If we cut the police department in half immediately, this will reduce the pension obligations in the long run. They still may prove to be too much for Carbondale to handle, and we’ll have to choose, at some point, whether promises made on behalf of city officials to provide police with comfortable retirements outweigh the other promises we’ve made in our lives. Sometimes we have to break one promise to keep a thousand others. But in the short term, the only reasonable option in the face of spiraling costs and the surplus of police is to cut the police in half immediately and to use those funds to build the kind of community we want before they get eaten by the pension monster – as they will in a few short years.
e. But if we have this many cops, doesn’t that mean we need them?
Many of the problems we are asking police to address are simply not police problems. As social services have become harder to find and people have become more isolated from their neighbors, police departments have had to transform into all-purpose problem-solvers, intervening in disputes, mental health-crises, and a myriad of problems exacerbated by poverty. The problem is that many such problems are more difficult to solve when the threat of violence is brought into them. No matter how well behaved a police officer is, the fact that they are armed and empowered to use violence can escalate situations in ways that are unproductive.
We are not saying that we don’t need people who are trained and willing to use force. We are saying that many problems are made worse by the introduction of the threat of force into the situation. This is why, above, we have proposed a team of Care workers. An unarmed brigade of people trained to connect people to resources, mediate disputes between neighbors, provide therapy, or simply to provide company and comfort to those who need it. We need people engaged in the work of compassion, without the looming possibility of violence that the police, by the nature of their job, always carry with them.
f. Conclusion: Right-Size the Police, Fund the Future
Its best to not look at things like this as “cuts.” Its more a matter of right-sizing, recalling that – as Gary Williams so eloquently put it – “the organization of the city must reflect the needs and size of the community.” Our needs: food autonomy, renewable energy, care workers, and cooperative businesses. Our size: around 20,000 people. Our dilemma: we are a town of 20,000 paying for a police force that could tame a city of 48,000.
The solution is simple: cut the police budget in half. This will free up about $5 million dollars, allowing us to fund the Carbondale Spring and transform our city into one of the most interesting cities in the world.
Cutting the police budget in half will result in more jobs than are lost. Currently, most Carbondale police do not live in Carbondale, but the jobs that are created will employ residents, teaching them new skills, and putting them to work for their neighbors, facing global challenges, and building a community that we can take pride in.
AN INVITATION TO CHANGE
We all know there is something special about this place.
70 years ago, Delyte Morris took advantage of a peculiar situation and grew a small college into a world class University, tripling the size of the town in about a decade. There was no roadmap for this transformation. It was unprecedented, and made possible by a set of bold ideas about what a university could be. The era that created that growth is long over. Today, we need an idea of similar boldness to build a future worth living in. There is no formula for how to solve the problems we face. We have to invent something new.
60 years ago, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century called this place home. Buckminster Fuller was a visionary who saw that the course of human civilization was ecologically untenable, and he sounded an alarm bell from his dome on Forest St. that reverberated around the world. His vision – and the vision of thousands who have struggled to create a more sustainable and compassionate world — has not been realized. We cannot wait for those with power at the state or federal or corporate level to save the day – it is simply not going to happen. The task of transforming, and possibly saving, the earth will fall on the humble. The small places that have the freedom to transform themselves on their own terms.
Carbondale is special. It is the site of the intersection of the eclipses. A place this special is only floundering so deeply because we have surrendered our unique and visionary legacy. We have to accept that we cannot police away the problems we are facing. We have to confront them with ingenuity, care, and a self-reliant spirit that is not afraid to break the existing molds and chart a new course.
We aim to make Carbondale the city that is taking the challenges posed by climate change seriously. We aim to make Carbondale the city that is seriously re-building a social safety net based on compassion rather than incarceration.
These two transformations will make Carbondale a destination for people around the country who are frustrated with the current course of the world. People will move here. People will visit here. We will be a beacon of inspiration for people.
If this vision resonates with you, and if you want to move forward with this as a community, please sign on to the Coalition for a Carbondale Spring.
1Edwardsville budget: https://www.cityofedwardsville.com/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/128 and police department numbers: https://www.cityofedwardsville.com/164/Police-Department-Information; DeKalb budget: https://cityofdekalb.com/DocumentCenter/View/8443/FY2019-Adopted-Budget, police departmnet breakdown is on pg. 101; Normal budget: http://www.normal.org/DocumentCenter/View/13257/2018-2023?bidId= and police department numbers: http://www.normal.org/188/About-Us; Charleston budget: https://www.charlestonillinois.org/vertical/Sites/%7B48D19AF4-26A9-444F-A5B9-99631D71D5F2%7D/uploads/Proposed_2018-2019_Budget.pdf