The Heritage Foundation

News Releases on Crime

September 25, 2000

September 25, 2000 | News Releases on Crime

100,000 Cops on the Beat? Not Even If You Use New Math

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2000-Eager to claim credit for a dropping national crime rate, President Clinton continues to boast of putting "more than 100,000 new community police officers" on the street through the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.

But the first independent analysis of the program, released today by The Heritage Foundation, shows that the actual number of new officers added through COPS falls well below the 100,000 mark.

Analyzing the latest Justice Department data on COPS grants, along with crime statistics and other FBI data, researchers in Heritage's Center for Data Analysis conclude that COPS-and a predecessor program that also funded community policing-added, at most, only some 40,000 full-time officers to the nation's police ranks during its first five years (1993-1998).

Indeed, given the rapid growth in police hiring that began prior to 1993, the true number of police hires attributable to COPS may be considerably lower.

The Heritage analysis was prompted by inquiries about the relationship between the COPS program and crime rates from reporters at the Scripps Howard News Service. Their questions led Heritage analysts to match Justice Department data on COPS grants with FBI statistics on officer employment, violent crime and population. The merged database allowed analysts to study crime rates and COPS grants on an agency-by-agency basis nationwide.

In addition to disputing claims about the number of police hired under the program, the Heritage study casts doubt on efforts to link the COPS program to the declining crime rate.

"If street officers are to take a 'bite out of crime,' they must be deployed within biting distance-in high-crime areas," notes William Beach, director of Heritage's Center for Data Analysis. But a large proportion of COPS grants have flowed to agencies with relatively mild crime problems, Heritage's team of researchers found. For example, among the 20 police departments receiving the largest COPS grants from 1993-1997, at least five (25 percent) had violent crime rates lower than the average for large (100,000+ population) cities.

"Intelligent targeting of funds is every bit as important as the number of officers put on active duty," said Beach. "You can add a million new officers every year, but if you put them to work pounding the beat in Mayberry, you won't put a dent in the national crime rate. When you put more 'feet on the street,' they should be directed to the meanest streets in the country."

Yet the Heritage study found little relationship between where crime is and where COPS funding goes. For example, from 1993 to1997, the Sacramento Sheriff's Department received $44 million in COPS grants. During that same period, Nashville's Metropolitan Police Department-battling nearly three times as many violent crimes and a violent crime rate three and a half times higher-received only a quarter of that amount ($11.8 million).

The Heritage Foundation analysis yields other disturbing insights, as well:

  • Some agencies added few police officers despite receiving large amounts of COPS funds. The Miami Police Department, for example, received nearly $46 million in COPS grants from 1993 to 1997. Of this amount, $34.4 million was marked for hiring new officers, yet the department expanded its ranks by only 21 officers-a cost of more than $1.6 million per officer. "Some COPS programs make those $800 Defense Department hammers look like a real bargain," Beach said.

  • Some funded agencies actually down-sized. The Atlanta Police Department received $15.3 million from 1993 to 1997, but dropped 75 officers (a 4.9 percent reduction) from 1994 to 1998. The biggest drop in officer strength, however, came right in COPS' backyard: The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department received $6.7 million in COPS funds to place more of its officers on the street, yet slashed 595 officers from its payroll (a 14.5 percent decline).

  • The allocation of funds was highly concentrated. From 1993 to 1997, almost half (48 percent) of the $1.58 billion dispensed to the nation's 315 largest police agencies went to just 10 police departments. The level of funding enjoyed by these 10 agencies was two times greater than their share of population (21 percent) or violent crime (24 percent).

The Heritage study expands on, and is consistent with, the findings of previous investigations into the COPS program. A July 1999 Justice Department report concluded: "Clearly, the COPS grants will not result in 100,000 additional officers on the streets by the end of FY 2000. Based on projections by the COPS Office, only 59,765 of the additional officers will by deployed by [then]." Fiscal year 2000 ends September 30.

The Justice Department report hinted that even this official projection was probably inflated. In an audit of selected agencies, it found that nearly four of every five police agencies (78 percent) that received grants to reassign officers from desk jobs to street patrol "either could not demonstrate they redeployed officers or could not demonstrate that they had a system in place to track the redeployment of officers into community policing."

Worse, after examining the records of 147 "high risk" grant recipients, Justice concluded that two of every five (41 percent) had used the money simply to "supplant local funds"-that is, to pay officers they would have hired even without federal funding. Using COPS grants to supplant local funding flouts the intent of the authorizing legislation, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

A more recent study conducted by the Urban Institute estimated that the net number of police officers hired due to COPS grants totaled between 36,288 and 37,523 by the end of 1998. Funded by the COPS office and published by the Justice Department last month, this analysis concluded that-under the most optimistic scenario-the number of additional officers hired through the COPS program would peak in the year 2001 at only 57,175.

The Heritage study also bolsters the observations of COPS critics such as Lawrence Sherman, director of the Fels Center of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, who claims COPS grants too often go to small, relatively low-crime communities. Sherman has lambasted the program for "putting funds where votes are, not where the violence is." The Heritage Foundation's agency-by-agency analysis clearly shows a disconnect between grants and crime rates-regardless of community size.

The Heritage Foundation's COPS database contains information on almost 15,000 police agencies which applied for nearly 45,000 COPS awards. Of that number, about 31,000 applications were accepted, 7,000 were rejected, and 4,000 withdrawn. (The rest were deemed ineligible, are still pending, or were improperly filled out.)

About the Author

Related Issues: Crime