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New SANDAG Report Finds More Than $2 Billion Spent on Public Safety in Fiscal Year 2020

March 18, 2021 -- Local Public Safety Expenditures Increase for a Third Consecutive Year

Local public safety budgets in the San Diego region have increased 5%, compared to one year ago, according to a new report released by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Clearinghouse.

The report, Public Safety Allocations in the San Diego Region: Expenditures and Staffing for FY 2019–20, found that the San Diego region spent more than $2.44 billion on public safety in Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 20). Expenditure increases were primarily attributed to labor costs, retirement, workers’ compensation, information technology, and costs related to COVID-19 impacts.

Notable findings include:

  • Half of public safety expenditures went to local law enforcement; the other half spent was on corrections, courts, prosecution, probation, public defense, and other general functions 
  • Corrections expenditures were the only category of the seven studied that did not increase in FY 20
  • The more than $2 billion spent on public safety functions in FY 20 equates to about $721 spent for every San Diego County resident
  • Roughly one in every three (34%) general fund dollars for all incorporated cities with individual police departments was dedicated to law enforcement
  • The region’s sworn officer-to-population ratio was 1.27, significantly lower than the national average of 2.90

For the first time in this annual report, SANDAG posed new questions to local public safety agencies to capture the unique impacts due to the pandemic.

The new information collected provides context for how agencies altered budgets and resources to meet the new demands related to the pandemic, as well as how agencies’ budgets could be affected by public safety reform and overtime expenditures.

'We found that the common theme across the agencies was the additional focus on addressing racial and social equity,” said Dr. Cynthia Burke, SANDAG Director of Research and Program Management. “Local agencies shared that they are prioritizing the expansion of de-escalation training and plan on working closely with their respective community leaders and residents to further to strengthen trust.” 

COVID-19 also played a key role in FY 20 spending. San Diego County public safety agencies had to pivot to meet the demands that arose during the pandemic. This included redirecting funding and resources to allow some staff to work remotely and purchasing safety supplies and equipment for essential work with the community. Staffing levels were also affected, which sometimes required overtime.
While some cost savings were offset by cancelled trainings, travel, and special events, law enforcement agencies had to factor in the potential loss of future sales tax revenues that included hiring freezes and reducing or eliminating expenses wherever possible.

The annual SANDAG report is part of Crime in the San Diego Region, a series that focuses on regional public safety allocations. The newly released report describes how dollars are spent in parts of the region’s criminal justice system over time, how jurisdictions have allocated dollars for law enforcement, how this information is related to recent crime rates and population served, and how staffing figures are related to expenditures.

For a full breakdown of expenditures by jurisdiction view the report, Public Safety Allocations in the San Diego Region: Expenditures and Staffing for FY 2019–20.

For a two-page summary of this report view the SANDAG Criminal Justice Flash.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or