President Clinton vowed upon taking office to lower
national crime rates by putting 100,000 more police officers on the
streets to patrol crime-prone communities. The result was the
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which tasked
the Attorney General with implementing a six-year, $8.8 billion
grant program administered by the Office of Community Oriented
Policing Services (COPS). The mission: Hire or redeploy 100,000
state and local law enforcement officers.
White House and other supporters maintain that the COPS program
deserves part of the credit for decreasing the national crime rate.
Skeptics say it is not administered properly and has not produced
the planned number of new officers, and that there is no
relationship between the awarding of grants and decreasing crime
Adding more police can affect crime rates,
but crime rates are also influenced by demographics, economics, and
judicial and law enforcement policies. Moreover, the number of
police officers can be expected to grow anyway because of normal
local funding decisions. The issue is whether COPS has added to
this natural growth. Three recent reports indicate that the program
has fallen far short of its stated goals and that tax dollars are
being used on haphazard projects or wasted on ineffective
Question #1: Has COPS put 100,000 more
police officers on the street?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform
Crime Reports, between 1993 (the year before COPS grants began)
and 1998, the number of full-time sworn police officers nationwide
grew by 87,435--from 553,773 to 641,208. A Heritage Foundation
study of the historical rates of growth found that the number who
would have been hired without COPS funds during the same period was
between 47,818 and 81,204: In other words, the number of officers
on the beat in 1998 was just 6,231 to 39,617 higher than it would
have been without COPS funds. (See "The Facts About COPS: A
Performance Overview of the Community Oriented Policing Services
Program," Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA00-10,
September 25, 2000.)
an August 2000 study, The COPS Program After 4 Years, the
Urban Institute found that COPS resulted in a net increase of
between 36,300 and 37,500 officers by the end of 1998. The report
also projects that the number of additional officers hired because
of the program will peak at a maximum of 57,175 in 2001.
an April 1999 study of police hiring and redeployment grants, the
Justice Department Inspector General (IG) concluded that the COPS
office had not been consistent in defining its goal of putting
100,000 additional community police officers on the street. COPS
officials now state that their goal is to fund 100,000 new
officers by the end of FY 2000, even though the original goal has
been unambiguously reaffirmed in COPS publications and in speeches
by many government officials. One of the most troublesome issues
raised by the IG was whether several thousand of these "funded"
officers that COPS counts toward its goal will ever
Another component of the program is the
primary redeployment (MORE) grants, designed to enable police
officers to spend more time on the street. The grants are given to
agencies so that they may buy better equipment (such as computers)
or even hire civilian personnel to do much of the administrative
work that normally takes up an officer's time. COPS counts 35,852
officers under the MORE program toward its own goal of 100,000
additional officers. But according to the April 1999 IG report,
which also audited 149 agencies thought to be out of compliance
with the grant rules, 78 percent of the grantees "either could not
demonstrate that they redeployed officers or could not demonstrate
that they had a system in place to track the redeployed officers
into community policing."
Question #2: Are COPS grants being used
to hire or redeploy police for community policing?
Not necessarily. According to the Urban Institute study, some
agencies used the money for telephone reporting systems, Computer
Aided Dispatch systems, and other technology such as geomapping and
reverse 911 systems.
April 1999 IG report was based on an audit of 149 recipients of
COPS and Office of Justice Programs hiring and redeployment grants
totaling $511 million. The IG found about $52 million in
"questioned costs" and about $71 million in funds that "could be
better used." This amounts to 24 percent of the total funds awarded
to the 149 grantees. If this percentage is applied to the entire
budget, questionable costs are over $2.1 billion as authorized by
Congress, or $1.8 billion as appropriated by Congress.
Question #3: Will agencies be able to
retain the COPS-funded officers after the grants end?
Again, not necessarily. The IG "questioned the ability of many
grantees to retain the COPS-funded officers after the grants
ended," since this could cause some cities to cut back in the
future. In a sample of 144 of the 149 grantees audited, the IG
found that 83 agencies (58 percent) "did not develop a good faith
plan to retain officer positions or said they would not retain the
officer positions at the conclusion of the grant." The Urban
Institute found that 52 percent of agencies that were asked "stated
they were uncertain about long-term retention plans." Some
respondents reported that unforeseen conditions were likely to keep
them from retaining all of the positions.
The COPS program has been shown to waste tax dollars. Community
policing can be effective in controlling crime and has been
successful in many localities around the nation, but it works only
where properly implemented. Some public officials say they want to
build on the current program and increase the funding for an
additional 50,000 police officers, but Congress should not spend
more money until it first holds the Justice Department and police
forces accountable for how COPS grants are being spent.
is a Database Editor in the Center for Media and Public Policy at
The Heritage Foundation.