Here in the United states, government assistance, or “welfare”, comes in many different forms: SSI, food stamps, section 8, etc. These programs amount to more than $354 billion in fiscal year 2006 at the federal level. That was almost 3% of our gross domestic product. Millions, if not billions, more went into similar programs at the state level.
But that is not the “true’ cost of welfare. To find the actual cost of welfare programs, one would have to add in other factors, like the drain on the criminal justice system.
Virtually all police departments use some type of standardized form for reporting incidents. Officers collect the information on scene and then fill in the blocks on their computer or handwritten report. One set of blocks on our forms relates to the persons employment: where they work, what they do, and a phone number. This helps the detectives follow up with witnesses and victims during business hours.
I have found that, excluding traffic accidents, fully half of the people that I deal with are unemployed and living on some form of welfare.
Let me give you an example from just the other night.
At about 4pm, the 911 center gets a phone call about a woman who was pushed out of a moving vehicle. Three police units respond to the area to look for the woman and the car. A fire department rescue truck and and abulance also respond to the scene. Officers locate the woman, the car, and the driver. After an investigation, officers determine that the driver and the woman are both intoxicated and that the woman simply fell from the moving vehicle. The driver was not arrested for DUI as he was not in physical control of the vehicle when officers arrived. The woman is treated by FD on scene and transported to the hospital by the ambulance. Officers stand by with the drunk driver until a sober third person arrives and takes control of the car and former driver.
The woman goes to the hospital and becomes disruptive with the staff. The woman kicks one of the emergency room nurses (a felony in this state) and the staff calls 911. Another officer and I respond to the emergency room where my partner is also kicked (another felony). In short order, the woman is subdued. After a few hours, the hospital medically clears the woman and she is transported to the county jail.
In the process of gathering the information for my report, I learn that the woman is not working, receives a $1700/month disability check, and is on disability for dyslexia.
So, lets take a look at the resources this single drunk, who is paid not to work, chewed up one night:
- one 911 call taker for the initial call
- one police dispatcher for the initial call
- three police officers responding to the scene looking for the ‘victim’ and suspect
- two firefighters
- two paramedics
- one ER doctor
- several ER nurses, techs, etc.
- another 911 call taker for the second call
- another police dispatcher for the second call
- two police officers to respond and investigate a felony battery
- numerous jail deputies to process and babysit
- a judge, clerk, and deputies to handle the first appearance the next morning
- untold numbers of clerks, state attorneys, paralegals, and police overtime to handle the prosecution
Of course, these resources do not include the break down of the equipment costs, fuel costs, and training costs associated with each of the public safety, medical, and criminal justice staff members.
The opportunity costs from this one incident are also staggering. For example, how many crimes may have been prevented if those officers had been on the road patrolling their zones? How much quicker could the ER have treated one of their patients who was in real need of medical care? How much time will be lost at the hospital because one of their ER nurses will now have to go to a deposition and appear in court?
Now take a look at things from a different angle. If that woman had not been paid $1700/month not to work, she probably would have been working, instead of drinking, when all of this began. If she had been working, then the citizens of this country would have saved their $1700 in federal spending, plus the citizens of this state would also have saved thousands in associated criminal justice expenses.
Your jurisdiction is probably experiencing some of the same things. If you think about it, the drain on our departments and the criminal justice system is staggering.