• Heritage Action
  • Heritage Libertad
  • More
Executive Summary #00-10es on Crime

September 25, 2000

Executive Summary: The Facts about COPS: A Performance Overview of the Community Oriented Policing Services Program

By , , and

Full Text

Executive Summary

One of President Bill Clinton's priorities when taking office was to put 100,000 additional police officers on America's streets. To achieve this goal, on September 13, 1994, he signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (P.L. 103-322), which authorized the establishment of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) within the U.S. Department of Justice. This program became the federal government's most significant criminal justice initiative throughout the 1990s. Designed to support state and local community policing activities to reduce crime, the program developed into a set of federal grants that cost American taxpayers $7.5 billion by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2000.1 If COPS has actually achieved its goal of deploying 100,000 more police, then one in every six state and local police officers today is federally funded.

According to the Justice Department, the COPS program reached an important milestone on May 12, 1999, "funding the 100,000th officer ahead of schedule and under budget."2 On August 22, 2000, COPS officials stated that, "[t]o date, the COPS program has funded more than 105,000 community policing officers. President Clinton has proposed continuing the COPS program for an additional five years to add up to 50,000 more community policing officers to local communities."3

Are these estimates valid? And if it is indeed the case that 100,000 additional police officers are now on the street, is it not also reasonable for policymakers, community leaders, and taxpayers to ask where these officers have been placed? To evaluate the effectiveness of the COPS program in reaching its stated goals, analysts at The Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis examined the Justice Department's own records in the COPS Management System database as well as data supplied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the Uniform Crime Reports for 1994, 1995, and 1998.4

The results of the Heritage analysis suggest that the COPS program has put far fewer than 100,000 more police officers on America's streets. Moreover, many of the jurisdictions receiving COPS grants have funneled a sizeable portion of that funding into areas that have comparatively less need to hire more police officers.

Specifically, this study found:

  • Far fewer than 100,000 additional officers have been put on the street as a result of COPS.
    Between 1993, when federal awards for community policing began,5 and 1998, the total number of full-time sworn police officers in the United States grew by 87,435--from 553,773 to 641,208.6 Yet a study of the historic rates of growth in the number of police officers before the COPS program began indicates that the number of officers who would have been hired without COPS funds would have increased between 47,818 and 81,204 from 1993 to 1998. In other words, the number of officers "on the beat" in 1998 is just 6,231 to 39,617 higher than the historic hiring trend suggests would have occurred without COPS funds.

  • The lower number of officers on the street mirrors the conclusions of the Justice Department's own inspector general.
    These Heritage findings are compatible with other independent analyses. For example, in a July 1999 report, the Justice Department's inspector general stated, "Clearly, the COPS grants will not result in 100,000 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 be deployed by the end of FY 2000."7 This number (59,765) not only includes the increase in the number of police officers in the United States, but also counts existing officers who are claimed to be redeployed to community policing as a result of the hiring of clerical employees or the purchase of equipment under the COPS program.

  • A recent report funded by the COPS Office finds that the program will result in far fewer than 100,000 additional officers on the street.
    A team of researchers working for the U.S. Department of Justice found that the COPS program has resulted in a net increase of between 36,288 and 37,523 police officers in the United States at the end of 1998.8 Moreover, the Justice Department report notes that the number of additional officers hired because of the COPS program will peak at a maximum of 57,175 in 2001. Even after counting officers who are "redeployed" due to the purchase of equipment or the hiring of administrative staff with COPS funds, the Justice Department researchers found that the number of officers added to the street will peak at between 68,991 and 84,630 in 2001.

  • Some police departments have used COPS funds to "supplant"--or substitute for--local funds they would have used to hire new officers.
    An audit of grantees suspected of not complying with the grant requirements conducted by the inspector general found strong evidence that the COPS Office's projection of 59,765 additional police officers still may have overestimated the number of new officers that would be put on the street. According to an analysis of 147 "high risk" grant recipients, up to 41 percent used the money to "supplant local funds."9

  • Estimates of how many additional hours officers spend on the street because of COPS grants are overstated.
    The COPS Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grants were intended to enable agencies to purchase equipment and hire clerical staff so that officers could be reassigned from administrative work to community policing. Yet the inspector general found that almost four in every five "high risk" recipients (78 percent) "could not demonstrate they had or would re-deploy officers from administrative duties to the streets."10

  • Some funded agencies showed small to no growth in the numbers of new officers despite receiving large amounts of COPS funds.
    Between 1994 and 1998, the Miami Police Department grew by only 21 new officers, according to data the department reported to the FBI, despite receiving some $45.9 million ($34.4 million for hiring new officers) in COPS grants between 1993 and 1997. This means that an average of almost $2.2 million in federal grants was received for each additional police officer placed on the streets. Meanwhile, although Atlanta was among the top 20 grant recipients with a total of $15.3 million ($11 million for hiring new officers) in COPS funding between 1993 and 1997, the city's police department reported to the FBI a total of 75 fewer officers by 1998.

  • The distribution of COPS funds has been highly concentrated.
    Almost half (47.7 percent) of the $1.58 billion in COPS funding allocated to 315 large agencies serving jurisdictions of over 100,000 persons between 1993 and 1997 went to just 10 police departments. These 10 departments serviced only 21 percent of the combined population of the 315 communities studied, and their officers handled only 24 percent of their reported violent crimes.

  • Some communities with low crime rates received large COPS grants.
    The Heritage analysis found that the 1995 violent crime rates for at least five of the 20 largest police agencies receiving the largest grants between 1993 and 1997 were below the average for comparable jurisdictions.


1. The $7.5 billion figure was obtained by summing appropriations designated for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Office of Justice Programs' funding for community policing grants. See Public Laws 103-121, 103-317, 104-134, 104-208, 105-119, 105-277, and 106-113.

2. See "About COPS: Rebuilding the Bond Between Citizens and the Government," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, at http://www.usdoj.gov/cops/news_info/default.htm (August 28, 2000).

3. Press release, "COPS Office Announces Grants to Enhance Law Enforcement Infrastructures and Community Policing Efforts in Indian Communities," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, August 22, 2000, at http://www.usdoj.gov/cops/news_info/press_releases/default.htm (August 28, 2000).

4. The authors gratefully acknowledge the role that Scripps Howard News Service played in initiating this project. Inquiries from Scripps Howard reporters about the relationship between COPS grants and crime rate change prompted analysts from the Center for Data Analysis to construct a database for this study.

5. Although the COPS program was officially created under the 1994 Crime Act, this paper references funding awarded in 1993 since Congress included funding for community police officers in the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1994 (P.L. 103-121). The funds were awarded in calendar year 1993. The Department of Justice referred to these funds as Police Hiring Supplement (PHS) grants after the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) was created in 1994. PHS grants were superseded by a set of similar grants administered by the COPS Office. According to the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, PHS grants were a "down payment" in the effort to deploy 100,000 additional officers on the street. See Michael R. Bromwich, Management and Administration of the Community Oriented Policing Services Grant Program, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, Audit Division, Report No. 99-21, July 1999, at http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/au9921/9921toc.htm (August 18, 2000).

6. From a select summary of data published in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/dtdata.htm#e&e (August 24, 2000).

7. Ibid.

8. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Evaluation of the COPS Program, August 2000, pp. 149-176.

9. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, Special Report: Police Hiring and Redeployment Grants, Summary of Audit Findings and Recommendations, Report No. 99-14, April 1999. See also Bromwich, Management and Administration of the Community Oriented Policing Services Grant Program.

10. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, Special Report: Police Hiring and Redeployment Grants, Summary of Audit Findings and Recommendations. See also Bromwich, Management and Administration of the Community Oriented Policing Services Grant Program.

Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.

The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.

More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.

Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."

Sign up to start your free subscription today!