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

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

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.


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