Police officers have a serious job to do—keep society safe by enforcing our laws. However, most states only have one to three police officers per 1,000 civilians. That’s a lot of people for a few sets of eyes and ears! This got us thinking about which states have the least amount of police officers per capita, the most crimes per officer, and therefore, the busiest policemen and women.
Below, you’ll find the 10 busiest states for officers when it comes to handling a large load of both violent and property crimes. All findings are based off of 2014 FBI crime statistics, Census data, and analysis by the SafeWise team. While there are a lot factors that impact crime rates—police tactics, poverty levels, population density, demographics, etc.—this map is here to demonstrate the hefty workload American police officers have on their plates each year.
* This study did not include West Virginia because of insufficient statistics
Michigan’s 23,179 law enforcement employees are kept busy by heavily populated cities like Detroit. In 2014, there were over 630,000 crimes in Michigan. That caused Michigan to top our list with an average of 28 total crimes per officer. While this may not seem like a big number, you have to think about the hours that go into testifying in court, filing paperwork, and resolving the incident itself. And since—state-wide—there are 350 civilians for every one police officer, that’s a lot of ground to cover for one person.
On average, each member of the Nevada police force handled about 23.01 property and violent crimes in 2014. That’s over 185,000 incidents that needed to be addressed to maintain the peace. Nevada is smack dab in the middle of the pack (25th place) for the highest number of violent and property crimes per capita, but the crime that does go on in the state requires its nearly 9,000 law enforcement employees to stay alert.
Each officer in Idaho has about 483 people to watch over. That’s why Idaho was the third busiest state for cops in 2014. Based on 2014’s findings, each officer took on an average of 19.35 property and violent crimes, even though the state reported the third least property and violent crimes per capita (20.68). We can assume that since Idaho has compact cities like Boise and towns with much lower populations, space had something to do with this disparity.
Kentucky had the 32nd most crimes per capita for violent and property crime (29.44) in 2014. And each officer was in charge of about 297 people. Suffice to say, its officers were pretty busy single-handedly addressing an average 18.07 crimes. Part of why Kentucky police officers were so busy could be because of the fact that there were much less violent crimes per cop compared to the amount of property crimes (2.53 to 26.91) in 2014. During this study, we found a positive correlation between more violent crimes and more police officers, so since Kentucky’s violent crime is relatively low, that could explain why it has fewer officers doing more work.
Arkansas had the 15th most violent and property crimes per capita in America in 2014—237,000. Of those crimes, each police officer had to handle an average of 16.68. Considering Arkansas police officers were responsible for 390 people each in 2014, it’s lucky crime rates weren’t even higher.
6. South Dakota
South Dakota has a fraction of the police force than other states. As of 2014, there were 2,913 law enforcement employees in South Dakota, compared to as many as 118,000 in California. Granted, the Mount Rushmore State is much less populated than California, but it still means officers had to each handle about 15.37 violent and property crimes in 2014.
This southern state has four officers for every 1,000 residents—or 297 people per cop— but that’s not enough. Mississippi reported about 193,00 property and violent crimes in 2014, and each officer handled an average of 15.26 crimes. Mississippi also has the lowest median household income in the nation (year to year), which has been shown to correlate with more crime. In Mississippi’s case, it was also the worst state for annual property crime in 2014—84.58 crimes per capita—so perhaps financial stress and a large percentage of people living below the poverty line added to this problem.
Wyoming has a low population density and reported the fourth lowest violent crimes in America in 2014. However, it also ranked as one of the most overworked states. We found that each cop dealt with about 15.02 violent and property crimes that year. Since we know police forces rarely add officers to combat property crime—just violent crime—that could be part of the reason.
9. North Carolina
In 2014, North Carolina reported the 26th most crimes per capita in the nation, causing individual officers to take on an average of 14.16 crimes. North Carolina has a number of big cities, which could have contributed to the busy schedules of its police officers. What we’re sure of is that taking care of 354 people when you’re only one police officer can be daunting.
For every 294 people in Indiana, there is one police officer (as of 2014). That’s why in 2014, each police officer had to handle an average of 13.76 violent and property crimes. That means the state’s nearly 12,000 law enforcement employees had to share the load of the 435,298 total crimes. While Gary and Indianapolis are two of the top three most dangerous cities in Indiana, police officers kept busy throughout the state.
Factors That Affect Crime Rates
Crime is a very complex topic; it’s incredibly difficult to isolate one single cause, and even more difficult to identify how different factors contribute to the whole. While this data is only the tip of the iceberg—providing a glimpse into a bigger civic and social issue—we were able to uncover some notable findings during the study:
- The higher the violent crime rate, the bigger the police force.States that have higher rates of violent crime also have more police officers. Washington D.C. is a great example of this since it has the biggest police force per capita, but also one of the highest violent crime rates per capita. The correlation between violent crime and large police forces is strong at 66 percent. So as violent crime increases, we can assume that law enforcement numbers do too.
- Property crime doesn’t appear to affect police staffing as much as violent crime.The correlation between the number of officers compared to the total property crime is much smaller than the violent crime data—33 percent. However, this data does provide a glimpse into the strategy behind how police officers combat crime.
- Poverty has a small, yet positive correlation with crime.According to our findings, poverty has a 28.42 percent correlation with crime. In states with large numbers of people living below the poverty line, property crimes were higher. We mentioned Mississippi has the lowest median household income per capita, and it also has one of the highest property crime rates as well.
- Population density has an affect on crime levels.More people in one given place results in higher crime rates. Without the data, this is a likely hypothesis to form. With the data, we know that a denser population increases crime rates by 17.76 percent.
- Policing tactics can impact crime and police force numbersPolicing tactics are a big part of the crime rate discussion, and one controversial topic right now is broken window policing. Broken window policing focuses on eliminating smaller incidents like property crime to ultimately lessen violent crimes and the amount of police officers needed in a given area. It’s the “nip-it-in-the-bud” method that seems to be working. In places like New York, broken window policing has helped cut down on property and violent crimes. So as police officers shift focus to different issues in society, we may very well see a change in the data we presented above.
The day in the life of a police officer sure isn’t easy. They have to manage dangerous situations, keep the peace, rescue people in distress, and help traffic flow smoothly. If you ever wondered what it takes to be in law enforcement, the statistics we just highlighted should paint a pretty clear picture.
Ranking The States With The Most Overworked Police Officers
|1. MICHIGAN||2. NEVADA||3. IDAHO|
|4. KENTUCKY||5. ARKANSAS||6. SOUTH DAKOTA|
|7. MISSISSIPPI||8. WYOMING||9. NORTH CAROLINA|
|10. INDIANA||11. DELAWARE||12. NEW HAMPSHIRE|
|13. CONNECTICUT||14. SOUTH CAROLINA||15. OHIO|
|16. ILLINOIS||17. LOUISIANA||18. RHODE ISLAND|
|19. OKLAHOMA||20. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA||21. HAWAII|
|22. UTAH||23. COLORADO||24. CALIFORNIA|
|25. ALABAMA||26. TEXAS||27. OREGON|
|28. MISSOURI||29. WISCONSIN||30. TENNESSEE|
|31. NEW MEXICO||32. MINNESOTA||33. MONTANA|
|34. NEW YORK||35. ARIZONA||36. KANSAS|
|37. PENNSYLVANIA||38. GEORGIA||39. IOWA|
|40. NORTH DAKOTA||41. WASHINGTON||42. ALASKA|
|43. NEW JERSEY||44. FLORIDA||45. MAINE|
|46. VIRGINIA||47. VERMONT||48. MASSACHUSETTS|
|49. NEBRASKA||50. MARYLAND|
* This study did not include West Virginia because of insufficient statistics