May 29, 2001 | News Releases on Crime
WASHINGTON, May 29, 2001-Violent crime rates have dropped every year since 1991, and Washington policymakers have been quick to credit the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. But a new Heritage Foundation study shows that the multi-billion-dollar COPS hiring grants did virtually nothing to reduce violent crime.
The analysis examines violent crime rates over a four-year period (1995-1998) and their relationship to a variety of demographic, economic and other variables-including prison admissions and COPS grants-often suggested as being key factors affecting criminal activity. Conducted by David B. Muhlhausen, a policy analyst in Heritage's Center for Data Analysis, the study encompasses 752 counties across the nation-the only counties for which complete data needed for the analysis were available.
The study concludes that, while several of the variables tested appear to reduce violent crime, COPS hiring grants do not. "Our analysis could find no cause-effect relationship between the COPS hiring or redeployment grants and the continuing drop in crime," Muhlhausen says.
The centerpiece of COPS, grants to help police agencies put more officers on the streets through hiring and redeployment, totaled $5.3 billion from 1994 through 1998. More that 40 percent of these grants ($2.3 billion) went to agencies operating in the counties examined in the Heritage study.
Yet "the grants made to hire new officers or reassign desk cops to street duty have had no discernable effect on violent crime rates," Muhlhausen says, noting that "violent crime rates began falling three years before the COPS program put the first federally-funded cop on patrol."
The study did find that some lesser, "miscellaneous" grants made by the COPS office did appear to be effective. Violent crime dropped by 16.2 incidents for every $100,000 (both figures per 100,000 residents) channeled into programs designed to address specific problems such as gangs, domestic violence and youth gun-use.
"It appears that agencies seeking the miscellaneous grants had done their homework, identifying core problems and developing specific strategies for addressing them," Muhlhausen says. "Their strategic preparation allowed them to get a solid bang for their COPS buck."
By contrast, he says, big-ticket grants for hiring and redeployment were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. "Absent a clear crime-fighting objective and a strategic plan for reaching that objective, most agencies simply continued 'business as usual,' using the federal money to pay their increased operating expenses," Muhlhausen says.
The Heritage study also identified several non-COPS related factors associated with the drop in violent crime. For example, violent crime rates fell in counties where those arrested for violent crimes faced a greater likelihood of going to prison.
Job growth also appeared to dampen violent crime. For every 1 percent increase in civilian labor-force participation, violent crime fell by 8.8 incidents per 100,000 residents.
And higher state and local law enforcement spending also appeared productive. Violent crime fell by 1.3 incidents for every $100,000 increase in state and local police spending (both figures per 100,000 residents).
The Heritage study comes at a time when Congress is considering proposals to extend the COPS program. One such proposal, "The 21st Century Law Enforcement, Crime Prevention, Victims Assistance Act (S. 16), would authorize an additional $6.9 billion in COPS spending over the next six years. In addition to extending the hiring and redeployment grants, it would boost, to $125,000, the amount of money an agency could use to hire a single officer (currently capped at $75,000 over three years).
"Our study casts serious doubt on the wisdom of extending the hiring and redeployment grants, much less enriching them," Muhlhausen noted. "It's usually not a good idea to throw good money after bad, even in the name of fighting crime."