Across the country, the money crunch has gotten so severe that police departments, which are usually the last targeted for budget cuts, have started to feel the economic hard times.
The results of a survey of 233 major police and sheriff's departments released to ABC News show that cities are resorting to law enforcement hiring freezes, potential layoffs and overtime cuts as means to push back against budget crises.
With tax dollars drying up from a devastated auto industry, city officials in Pontiac, Mich., have slashed their police force by two-thirds in recent years. Phoenix, facing a budget deficit of $270 million, might delay filling 250 vacant police officer positions.
Atlanta has cut police salaries by 10 percent by shaving four hours off the workweek of every officer -- including the chief.
"We have been furloughing each and every police officer on our department including myself. We work 36 hours a week now, which equates to a 10 percent reduction in pay. And it also equates to a 10 percent reduction in resources on the street," Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington told ABC News. "We have 10 percent less manpower on the streets of Atlanta, and that's broken down 24 hours, seven days a week."
And the story in Atlanta is echoed throughout the communities surveyed by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that researches law enforcement issues and analyzes public policy.
27 percent of departments have implemented a hiring freeze for police officers.
12 percent are considering layoffs or forced retirements.
49 percent have reduced or eliminated funding for technology updates.
61 percent of departments have cut overtime, which is often used to boost police presence in high crime areas.
"We've already cut our overtime expenditures in half in the last three months," Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told ABC News. "So already, we're seeing a reduction in the number of officers that are out there on the street, simply to try to stave off layoffs. We're doing everything that we can within our budget to stay away from layoffs, but we don't know if we're going to be able to do that."
Police say the cuts in overtime, manpower and other resources threaten to undermine hard-fought gains in reducing crime and might worsen matters in neighborhoods still struggling with spikes.
"You need people out on the street, you need police visibility, you need police officers doing problem solving in the neighborhoods and connecting with the community," said Davis. But with the Boston Police Department looking to trim 10 percent of its budget, jobs are in jeopardy.
"When your budget is comprised mostly of personnel, there's no way to look at that kind of cut without looking at laying off bodies," Davis said. "And it's tragic, because we've made great progress."
Some departments in the survey are already seeing spikes in property crime.
"In certain kinds of crimes like robberies, larcenies, thefts from autos, we are already seeing increases in crime in a number of cities," said Chuck Wexler, the research forum's executive director. "But also, the fact that when we did have increases in crime, police were able to put cops on the dots, police where they were needed, and really make a difference."
There is no national trend upward yet, but some police chiefs worry about the long-term forecast for crime if the cutbacks continue or deepen.