Money for Nothing, Detroit Edition

A huge portion of Detroit's operating costs go to police and fire.  If you include retiree health care and pensions, way over half of Detroit's budget goes to police and fire**.  That is an enormous increase since 1960.


So one might expect the schools to suck and the streetlights to be broken (which they do and are), but you would expect great freaking fire and police coverage.  But you would be wrong.  Detroit has one of the highest crime rates in the country.  This is what you get for your money there:

If you're a Detroiter who needs a police officer, it will take 58 minutes to get help -- more than five times what it takes elsewhere in the United States...

Here are some of the other problems outlined in the bankruptcy filing:

-- Response times for Emergency Medical Services and the Detroit Fire Department average 15 minutes, which is more than double the 7-minute averages seen in other cities.

-- The police department closes only 8.7% of its criminal cases, which the filing blames on the department's "lack of a case management system, lack of accountability for detectives, unfavorable work rules imposed by collective bargaining agreements and a high attrition rate in the investigative operations unit."

-- The city's violent crime rate is five times the national average, and the highest of any city with a population exceeding 200,000.


** This is in large part due to the power of their unions, and their ability in elections to translate hero worship for police and fire fighters into political power that will allow them to get anything they want.  As a politician, try to stand up for sanity and you will be deluged by union ads arguing that you don't respect our men who are risking their lives for you, etc. etc.


  1. oneteam:

    Great example of what is to come in many large municipalities. There is no free market resistance to keep public unions in check because we the people are always going to pay whatever tax supports it all. Private unions have a free market check in that if they drive their employers into bankruptcy, the benefits can be zeroed out and you can start all over (to one degree or another, barring insane feds bailing them out... but I digress.) It's much more difficult to do that with public unions. Of course, Detroit is a perfect example of what DOES happen when it goes too far. The city goes bankrupt. But even then, the unions fight the bankruptcy court to keep those same benefits that bankrupted the city in the first place.

    I've said it many times... public unions should be outlawed. The fact that you are signing away tax revenue from future generations of people who haven't been been born yet, in whatever city, is just insane. All public jobs should be year to year, with no future benefits. Just pay them enough to provide their OWN future benefits.

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    "The city's violent crime rate is five times the national average, and
    the highest of any city with a population exceeding 200,000."

    If you look at what's happening with the population of Detroit, that last part will fix itself eventually.

  3. Nehemiah:

    Agreed. Even FDR warned about public sector unions. The citizens do not have fair representation at the negotiation table since our public officials are beholding to unions for campaign support. A very unhealthy relationship.

  4. mesaeconoguy:

    One possibility, though difficult, would be to start naming individual politicians/city managers, etc. directly in lawsuits.

  5. marque2:

    I have to say that the lenders also have some culpability. Why did they keep lending to a city that they knew was getting worse and worse off? You would think institutions would demand higher and higher interest rates and eventually lose interest (as in stop lending.) When the cash crisis occurred Detroit would have been forced to deal long before they went bankrupt.

  6. marque2:

    Well that is why the need to pay so much for a police force. If there was little crime they could pay less :P

  7. Matthew Slyfield:

    Well yes, but in another decade or two they won't have the highest crime rate of any city with a population exceeding 200,000 (even if their crime rate goes up) for the simple fact that their population won't exceed 200,000 any more.

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    Because this is a municipality we are talking about I would be willing to bet that the lenders were assuming that if Detroit really went bankrupt, that the state and or feds would bail them out.

  9. coregis:

    In Pennsylvania local government, we have an explanation for that oddity: Republican love cops (and by extension firefighters) and Democrats love unions. The perfect storm.

  10. mesaeconoguy:

    The underlying lending assumption is that tax revenue is infinite.

    Obviously, it isn't.

  11. vkbenson:

    Blame this on John Kennedy. One of his first acts was an executive order allowing federal employees to unionize as a political pay-off for labor support. States, counties, municipalities, school districts, etc. quickly followed, and we are suffering the consequences.

  12. David Arnsdorf:

    Schools in Michigan are funded largely by state funds from sales tax. This was a change done by Engler to equalized school funding. Local districts can vote to tax themselves to supplement the funds a little, but it is deliberately limited.

  13. rst1317:

    It's too bad that part of the bankruptcy process for a municipality doesn't include being dissolved. It won't magically fix all the problems but it would help change things up and give some possibility for improvement.