A new report examining police funding trends finds Wisconsin is one of 23 states in which police departments and law enforcement agencies are the “foremost spending priority in municipal budgets.”

But the report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum found when factoring in county and state-level spending, the proportion of budgets dedicated to police in Wisconsin comes in slightly below the national average.

“The takeaway is that Wisconsin’s municipal governments appear to devote a higher proportion of their budgets to police than the national average, but this is balanced by Wisconsin’s lower proportional spending at the county and state levels,” the report said.

The report found from 1984 to 2018, municipal spending on law enforcement rose from $353 million to $1.28 billion — a nearly 60 percent increase when accounting for inflation. That increase also drove up law enforcement spending as a percentage of overall municipal spending by 2.2 percent.

Over the same period, the report cited FBI data to show crime in Wisconsin has fallen nearly 55 percent. That drop is powered, according to the report, by a 59 percent decrease in property crime. Violent crime in the state ticked up from 258 offenses per 100,000 people in 1986 to 295 in 2018.

Still, the report warned that data was “imperfect.”

“These figures should be interpreted with caution given that changes in laws, police reporting practices, and definitions such as that used for sexual assault have all changed over the years, making the data less comparable over time,” the report said.

The report also found that despite the increase in funding, police staffing levels in some of the state’s largest cities have lagged behind population growth over the last 10 years.

But it concluded cutting police funding may be inevitable.

“Given law enforcement’s large share of overall local government spending in Wisconsin, many of the state’s municipalities may have little choice but to consider cuts or freezes to police spending as their financial challenges intensify from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

Wisconsin Policy Forum report:

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