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Unsung Heroes: These Metros Have the Fewest Public Safety Officers Per Capita

In an emergency, police and firefighters are some of the first people to show up, providing life-saving services for their communities and preventing further crime, injury, and damage. But in some communities, those emergency responders are responsible for more citizens than others—many police and fire departments across the country are critically understaffed, leaving the current pool of officers and firefighters overworked and responsible for covering more ground.

At ASecureLife, safety is our top priority, and these emergency responders are a big part of the community safety equation. We wanted to find out which metro areas have the fewest police and firefighters per capita, so with data from the US Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we set out to find the areas with emergency responders covering the most people.

Metro areas with the fewest police per capita

RankMetro# of PolicePolice ratio
1Punta Gorda, FL801 : 2,312
2California-Lexington Park, MD801 : 1,408
3Grand Forks, ND-MN801 : 1,279
4Pittsfield, MA1001 : 1,263
5Muskegon, MI1401 : 1,240
6Midland, MI701 : 1,189
7Corvallis, OR801 : 1,151
8Oshkosh-Neenah, WI1501 : 1,140
9Elmira, NY801 : 1,053
10Columbus, IN801 : 1,034
11Elkhart-Goshen, IN2001 : 1,028
12Provo-Orem, UT6201 : 1,022
13Missoula, MT1201 : 990
14Fairbanks, AK1001 : 990
15Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL7201 : 983
16Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL7701 : 980
17Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA25901 : 957
18Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA6101 : 940
19Portland-South Portland, ME5801 : 923
20La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN1501 : 912
21Springfield, OH1501 : 897
22Jackson, MI1801 : 882
23Dubuque, IA1101 : 880
24Staunton-Waynesboro, VA1401 : 879
25Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA3201 : 857
26Appleton, WI2801 : 848
27Canton-Massillon, OH4701 : 848
28Ogden-Clearfield, UT8101 : 833
29Madera, CA1901 : 830
30Lewiston-Auburn, ME1301 : 828
31State College, PA2001 : 814
32Medford, OR2701 : 813
33Merced, CA3401 : 808
34Ann Arbor, MI4601 : 806
35Bellingham, WA2801 : 806
36Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA49001 : 804
37Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA1601 : 801
38Bend-Redmond, OR2401 : 800
39Champaign-Urbana, IL3001 : 799
40Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI13401 : 798
41Albany, OR1601 : 796
42Owensboro, KY1501 : 794
43Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN2801 : 792
44Pocatello, ID1101 : 792
45Yakima, WA3201 : 786
46Longview, WA1401 : 778
47Houma-Thibodaux, LA2701 : 775
48Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA2201 : 771
49Port St. Lucie, FL6301 : 765
50Sumter, SC1401 : 761
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Metro # of Police Police ratio
Punta Gorda, FL 80 1 : 2,312
California-Lexington Park, MD 80 1 : 1,408
Grand Forks, ND-MN 80 1 : 1,279
Pittsfield, MA 100 1 : 1,263
Muskegon, MI 140 1 : 1,240
Midland, MI 70 1 : 1,189
Corvallis, OR 80 1 : 1,151
Oshkosh-Neenah, WI 150 1 : 1,140
Elmira, NY 80 1 : 1,053
Columbus, IN 80 1 : 1,034
Elkhart-Goshen, IN 200 1 : 1,028
Provo-Orem, UT 620 1 : 1,022
Missoula, MT 120 1 : 990
Fairbanks, AK 100 1 : 990
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 720 1 : 983
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 770 1 : 980
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 2590 1 : 957
Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA 610 1 : 940
Portland-South Portland, ME 580 1 : 923
La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN 150 1 : 912
Springfield, OH 150 1 : 897
Jackson, MI 180 1 : 882
Dubuque, IA 110 1 : 880
Staunton-Waynesboro, VA 140 1 : 879
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 320 1 : 857
Appleton, WI 280 1 : 848
Canton-Massillon, OH 470 1 : 848
Ogden-Clearfield, UT 810 1 : 833
Madera, CA 190 1 : 830
Lewiston-Auburn, ME 130 1 : 828
State College, PA 200 1 : 814
Medford, OR 270 1 : 813
Merced, CA 340 1 : 808
Ann Arbor, MI 460 1 : 806
Bellingham, WA 280 1 : 806
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 4900 1 : 804
Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA 160 1 : 801
Bend-Redmond, OR 240 1 : 800
Champaign-Urbana, IL 300 1 : 799
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 1340 1 : 798
Albany, OR 160 1 : 796
Owensboro, KY 150 1 : 794
Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN 280 1 : 792
Pocatello, ID 110 1 : 792
Yakima, WA 320 1 : 786
Longview, WA 140 1 : 778
Houma-Thibodaux, LA 270 1 : 775
Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA 220 1 : 771
Port St. Lucie, FL 630 1 : 765
Sumter, SC 140 1 : 761

Fewest police officers per capita: Punta Gorda, FL

Of all the metro areas on our list, Punta Gorda, Florida, has the fewest police officers per capita, with just 80 police officers serving nearly 185,000 people. In other words, there are roughly 2,312 people for each officer in Punta Gorda.

How does crime rate fit in?

The average number of police officers per person nationwide continues to decrease, so it might seem that the violent crime rate is rising. But, in fact, the opposite is true—the average violent crime rate in the US has been on a downward trend over the past few decades. Perhaps that’s one reason police departments manage with fewer officers: with fewer crimes per capita, departments may get by with fewer uniforms.

What other factors might influence the number of police officers in a city?

Like so many other key elements of American life, police departments are paid for with property taxes, which means some cities may have a smaller police budget than others. However, local taxes aren’t the only way police can keep the lights on; the US Department of Justice also offers many grants to departments that can demonstrate a need for federal funding. Still, not every department can qualify for a grant, and budgetary constraints can be a big reason a department is understaffed.

In addition, some areas are experiencing fast population growth. In those areas, departments may struggle to hire enough officers to keep up with the expanding local population. As current officers age out, some departments can struggle to keep their ranks filled.

Metro areas with the fewest firefighters per capita

RankMetro# of FirefightersFirefighters ratio
1Syracuse, NY801 : 8,131
2Port St. Lucie, FL801 : 6,025
3Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA1201 : 4,788
4Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ2101 : 4,013
5Salisbury, MD-DE1101 : 3,727
6Lebanon, PA401 : 3,532
7Kalamazoo-Portage, MI1001 : 3,403
8Pittsburgh, PA7301 : 3,184
9Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ501 : 3,019
10Reading, PA1401 : 3,001
11St. George, UT601 : 2,861
12Johnson City, TN801 : 2,533
13York-Hanover, PA1901 : 2,359
14Ocean City, NJ401 : 2,314
15Corvallis, OR401 : 2,302
16Jackson, MI701 : 2,268
17Ann Arbor, MI1701 : 2,182
18Monroe, MI701 : 2,149
19Sumter, SC501 : 2,130
20Erie, PA1301 : 2,092
21Houma-Thibodaux, LA1001 : 2,091
22Flint, MI2001 : 2034
23Mankato-North Mankato, MN501 : 2,032
24Logan, UT-ID701 : 2,011
25Binghamton, NY1201 : 2,001
26Cedar Rapids, IA1401 : 1,944
27Lansing-East Lansing, MI2501 : 1,927
28Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA2901 : 1,915
29Salt Lake City, UT6401 : 1,910
30Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL801 : 1,839
31Medford, OR1201 : 1,829
32Valdosta, GA801 : 1,827
33Utica-Rome, NY1601 : 1,821
34Lewiston-Auburn, ME601 : 1,794
35Modesto, CA3101 : 1,773
36Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV12601 : 1,771
37Clarksville, TN-KY1701 : 1,719
38Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL1301 : 1,677
39Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD37301 : 1,634
40Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA28401 : 1,627
41Provo-Orem, UT3901 : 1,625
42New Haven, CT5401 : 1,588
43Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN1401 : 1,584
44Burlington-South Burlington, VT1401 : 1,579
45Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA15901 : 1,559
46Niles-Benton Harbor, MI1001 : 1,541
47New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA130701 : 1,528
48Boise City, ID4801 : 1,521
49McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX5701 : 1,519
50Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ32101 : 1,513
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Metro # of Firefighters Firefighters ratio
Syracuse, NY 80 1 : 8,131
Port St. Lucie, FL 80 1 : 6,025
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 120 1 : 4,788
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 210 1 : 4,013
Salisbury, MD-DE 110 1 : 3,727
Lebanon, PA 40 1 : 3,532
Kalamazoo-Portage, MI 100 1 : 3,403
Pittsburgh, PA 730 1 : 3,184
Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ 50 1 : 3,019
Reading, PA 140 1 : 3,001
St. George, UT 60 1 : 2,861
Johnson City, TN 80 1 : 2,533
York-Hanover, PA 190 1 : 2,359
Ocean City, NJ 40 1 : 2,314
Corvallis, OR 40 1 : 2,302
Jackson, MI 70 1 : 2,268
Ann Arbor, MI 170 1 : 2,182
Monroe, MI 70 1 : 2,149
Sumter, SC 50 1 : 2,130
Erie, PA 130 1 : 2,092
Houma-Thibodaux, LA 100 1 : 2,091
Flint, MI 200 1 : 2034
Mankato-North Mankato, MN 50 1 : 2,032
Logan, UT-ID 70 1 : 2,011
Binghamton, NY 120 1 : 2,001
Cedar Rapids, IA 140 1 : 1,944
Lansing-East Lansing, MI 250 1 : 1,927
Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA 290 1 : 1,915
Salt Lake City, UT 640 1 : 1,910
Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL 80 1 : 1,839
Medford, OR 120 1 : 1,829
Valdosta, GA 80 1 : 1,827
Utica-Rome, NY 160 1 : 1,821
Lewiston-Auburn, ME 60 1 : 1,794
Modesto, CA 310 1 : 1,773
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 1260 1 : 1,771
Clarksville, TN-KY 170 1 : 1,719
Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL 130 1 : 1,677
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 3730 1 : 1,634
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 2840 1 : 1,627
Provo-Orem, UT 390 1 : 1,625
New Haven, CT 540 1 : 1,588
Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN 140 1 : 1,584
Burlington-South Burlington, VT 140 1 : 1,579
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 1590 1 : 1,559
Niles-Benton Harbor, MI 100 1 : 1,541
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 13070 1 : 1,528
Boise City, ID 480 1 : 1,521
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 570 1 : 1,519
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 3210 1 : 1,513

Fewest firefighters per capita: Syracuse, NY

According to our data, Syracuse has the fewest firefighters per capita of any US metro area. With just 80 firefighters in a population of over 650,000, Syracuse has a civilian-to-firefighter ratio of roughly 8,131 to 1.

What factors might influence the number of firefighters in a metro area?

As is the case with police departments, fire departments need to pay their staff out of tax-funded budgets, and not all budgets are created equal. Without enough money to hire more firefighters, some departments are left operating shorthanded.

Not every influencing factor is manmade, however. Environmental conditions may also impact the number of firefighters needed in a metro area; if the department is an area with a climate prone to dry weather or in an area with flammable brush, more firefighters may be needed to keep a handle on the local fire threat.

Methodology

Our ASecureLife data team looked at metro-specific occupational data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find the numbers of career, salaried police officers and firefighters for each metro area. We then compared those numbers to each metro area’s population as reported by the US Census Bureau to find the per-capita results.

Please note: these numbers exclusively reflect data available via the BLS and Census. Because of possible additional factors at play in certain metro areas, this report may not provide a full picture of the responder climate for each area.

Additional sources

United States Census Bureau, “County and Metro Area Population Estimates
Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, “Occupational Employment Statistics

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