The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder #1647 on Crime

April 23, 2003

April 23, 2003 | Backgrounder on Crime

Why the Bush Administration Is Right on COPS

The Bush Administration's budget for fiscal year (FY) 2004 recommends major changes at the U.S. Department of Justice. Among the Administration's proposals is that the hiring grants administered by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) be eliminated in FY 2004.1 This is the second consecutive year that the Administration has made this request.2

The Administration has further recommended that the overall funding for COPS be reduced to retarget funding for more urgent priorities.3 Specifically, the funds saved by downsizing COPS are to be used to help the nation's firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, and public health officials respond to weapons of mass destruction and other acts of terrorism.4

Congress should follow the President's recommendation regarding COPS funding because it is supported by an abundance of well-documented evidence.

  • There is little to suggest that the COPS program has significantly advanced the community policing movement, which began several years before COPS was created.
  • The COPS program misused taxpayer dollars by producing a self-serving evaluation of its effectiveness and presenting the study as independent research.
  • The COPS program did not meet its goal of placing 100,000 additional officers on the street.
  • The COPS program has failed as a crime-reduction policy.

In a letter introducing the Administration's FY 2004 budget, President George W. Bush wrote,

We will continue to focus on getting results from federal spending. A federal program's measure of success is not its size, but the value it delivers.... If federal programs cannot show results, they should be overhauled, or retired.5

The use of performance measures is vital to the Administration's efforts to determine which federal programs are successful and which are not.

Despite a sizeable monetary investment, thorough and independent evaluations of the COPS program have found that it failed to achieve its primary goal of placing an additional 100,000 officers on the streets and reducing crime. The Administration's recommendation that funding for this ineffective program be cut is entirely consistent with its goal of funding only those federal programs that pass the evaluation test recommended by President Bush.

Throughout the past nine years, the COPS program has been the federal government's most prominent crime-prevention initiative. This program gives grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to increase the number of police officers on the streets, providing functions at the federal level that rightfully lie within the jurisdiction of states and localities.

Federal funds, initially granted in December 1993, were awarded with a goal of placing 100,000 additional officers on the streets by October 2000. Since the inception of the program, many local law enforcement agencies have used their portions of the over $10.6 billion in COPS grants to fund officer salaries, computer technology, and clerical support.6


While COPS did not add 100,000 new officers as expected, another important goal was substantial advancement in the adoption of community policing across the nation. Quint Thurman, a professor of criminal justice at Southwest Texas State University, has suggested that COPS has had a "tremendous impact on community policing."7

The Justice Department tested the ability of COPS to promote community policing by conducting a survey of community policing tactics as used by police agencies, both funded and not funded by COPS, from pre-1995 to 1998.8 The survey examined four areas of community policing: partnership building, problem solving, prevention, and organizational change.9

Partnership Building
The survey measured net changes in eight partnership-building activities. The differences between the net changes for COPS-funded and non-funded agencies were not statistically significant for seven of the eight activities. COPS was ineffective in increasing such important community partnership activities as regular community meetings, projects to remove signs of disorder, and citizen advisory boards.10 The only area of success was increasing participation in joint projects with businesses.11

Problem Solving
The survey measured changes in 11 problem-solving activities. For 10 of these activities, COPS funding had no impact on the adoption of innovative police practices.12 COPS failed to increase such activities as analyzing community problems, systematic problem monitoring, utilizing residents' responses to measure the effect of problem-solving tactics, and working with probation and parole officers to identify and solve problems.13 COPS appears only to have spurred grantees to pay greater attention to neighborhood values, compared to non-funded agencies.14

After examining 11 crime-prevention activities, the survey found significant gains in only two categories. COPS grantees experienced greater rates of participation in late night recreation programs (e.g., midnight basketball) and participation in victim assistance programs.15 For the remaining nine categories, COPS did not facilitate the implementation of school drug education programs, police-youth programs, preventive patrol, code enforcement to tackle disorder, confidential hotlines to report drug and gun violations, dispute mediation, truancy reduction, battered women's programs, and graffiti eradication.16

Organizational Change
COPS appears to have had a little more success in promoting organizational change. Of the 10 organizational changes measured, COPS-funded agencies experienced greater positive changes in only three activities: implementing dispatch rules to maximize officer time to prevent crimes on their beats, expanding beat officer discretion, and revising evaluation measures of employee performance.17 COPS-funded and non-funded agencies did not differ in such activities as increasing coordination with other government agencies, developing alternative response methods for calls for service, reshaping beats to correspond with neighborhood boundaries, or providing the community the opportunity to nominate and prioritize the problems that the police should address.18

In many instances, COPS hiring and redeployment grants may have been used for community policing in name only. Grant recipient agencies may have done the necessary paperwork to apply for the grants without ever fully implementing community policing techniques. For example, a Justice Department study found that COPS grantees too frequently established partnerships with the community that were nominal and temporary.19

Although COPS certainly did not hinder the spread of community policing, the evidence does not support claims that it substantially advanced community policing. Of the 40 community policing activities measured, COPS increased the participation rate in only seven. Moreover, some of the activities encouraged by COPS, such as late night recreation programs, are of dubious worth as crime-fighting initiatives.

The community policing movement preceded the COPS program, and communities throughout the nation would have continued incorporating it without federal involvement. The acceptance of federal COPS funding by local law enforcement agencies does not necessarily mean that community policing techniques will be implemented successfully or improved. A firm commitment by local police departments to work with residents of a community to solve their crime problems is more important than having the federal government pay for operational expenses.


Researchers at COPS, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Southwest Texas State University have produced a federally funded evaluation of COPS (hereafter, the COPS study) that claims the program is effective.20 However, the Administration is correct to question the validity and independence of the COPS-funded study.21

The COPS study was produced approximately six months after the publication of The Heritage Foundation's evaluation that found COPS to be ineffective in reducing violent crime.22 The COPS study was financed through two COPS office grants totaling over $156,000.23 The authors of the COPS study claim that their research demonstrates that COPS is effective in reducing crime. However, the validity and objectivity of the study's findings are suspect for at least three compelling reasons:

First, there are a number of significant weaknesses in the COPS study's methodology that invalidate its findings.24

Second, while the COPS study was presented to Congress and the public as independent research, the facts suggest that it was produced under questionable circumstances.

Third, obstructing rather than promoting openness and transparency in government, COPS refuses to release its data to allow independent researchers the opportunity to replicate and conduct additional analyses to validate the study's findings.

Flawed Research Methodology
Although the COPS study was sharply critical of prior research that did not "control for extraneous factors that may be correlated with both increases in the number of police officers and increases in crime rates, such as local politics or fluctuations in the local economies of cities,"25 COPS researchers themselves ignored important contributing factors in their own study. The COPS study was based mainly on data from 1990 and failed to take into account many significant subsequent demographic changes that may have influenced crime rates, such as fluctuations in minority and youth populations. As far-fetched as it may seem, the COPS study used 1990 data in an attempt to account for changes in crime rates from 1995 to 1999.

Another highly questionable aspect of the COPS study is its assumption that state and local law enforcement efforts do not influence crime rates. In truth, state and local governments are on the front line in efforts to fight street crime, while the federal government plays only a small role. During the 1994-1999 period, while the COPS program had a nationwide budget of $6.9 billion, state and local governments allocated more than $280 billion for police agencies.26 In other words, for every $1 spent on COPS initiatives, over $40 was spent by state and local governments for police protection.

In contrast to the approach taken in the COPS study, The Heritage Foundation used a statistical model that accounted for state and local investments in policing.27 In addition, the analysis used county-level data that included more complete information on government spending as well as information on important socioeconomic factors that is available on a yearly basis. The Heritage Foundation study found that, while state and local police expenditures had a significant impact on the incidence of crime, the COPS program was largely ineffective.

"Independent" Evaluation.
The Administration is correct to call on COPS to take "additional steps to guarantee the independence of [its] external evaluations."28 COPS funded its evaluation through a cooperative agreement that gave the agency control over the study's findings and conclusions.

The results of the Heritage and COPS studies were presented during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs in December 2001.29 When originally presented at the November 2001 American Society of Criminology conference, the COPS study listed a COPS employee as a co-author. However, when presented to Congress as an independent and objective study, the COPS study did not list the employee's name.

In testimony, Jihong Zhao, the report's principal author and professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, also failed to acknowledge the COPS employee's co-authorship, telling the subcommittee, "I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you the major findings of a research project that my co-author, Dr. Quint Thurman, and I just recently finished."30 This omission strongly suggests that COPS and the study's authors wanted to hide the role that COPS played in supervising the study and interpreting its findings. About a year after the congressional hearing concluded, the COPS employee's name reappeared as a co-author when the study was published in an academic journal funded by the National Institute of Justice.31

Obstructing Independent Evaluations
By repeatedly denying access to the data set used in the study, COPS has violated the standards of good scholarship and sound public policy analysis. This behavior matters to anybody who supports openness and public transparency in government because withholding the data prevents other researchers from replicating and validating the findings of published studies.

The Heritage Foundation made several requests for the data during 2001, 2002 and 2003--and all were turned down. Requests from other researchers, unaffiliated with The Heritage Foundation, were also rejected.32 COPS even refused to provide the data in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.33 After the publication of The Heritage Foundation study, COPS requested that they be provided with Heritage data set.34 Unlike COPS, The Heritage Foundation immediately provided COPS with its data and placed no conditions on their use. The COPS program and Zhao have offered to release the data on the condition that The Heritage Foundation agree not to assess the degree to which the COPS study's results hinge on the underlying modeling assumptions and the data used by the authors.

COPS has given two justifications for withholding its data from the public. First, COPS says that it is continuing to study the program, and the data used for previously published studies will not be made available until all future studies are published. According to COPS, "It is the grantee's professional privilege to conduct numerous analyses on the data and to exhaust all publication opportunities prior to terminating the grant and releasing the data to the public."35 However, the fact that additional studies are planned does not justify withholding from public scrutiny data that have already been used in a study presented to Congress.

In addition, the claimed "privilege" for COPS research grantees may violate the "Data Quality Act," which requires the adoption of procedures to ensure and maximize the "quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies."36 The Office of Management and Budget defines "disseminated" as "agency initiated or sponsored distribution of information to the public."37 The Justice Department has publicized that the study's findings demonstrate that COPS had produced a public benefit by reducing crime.38

A second reason given by COPS for not releasing the data is that the data are already publicly available. That is incorrect. While the underlying data (except for the COPS grant data) are publicly available, the agency refuses to disclose its data set, which was modified to produce its study. In other words, the actual data set is not available to the public.

By refusing to let the public test the validity of the research it funded, COPS demonstrates a lack of confidence in how taxpayer funds have been spent. In addition, it is a significant violation of professional ethics to block others from replicating and validating the findings of the COPS-funded study. COPS claims that the study demonstrates that the program is effective, yet COPS and the study's authors will not release the data that support its claims.


To evaluate the effectiveness of the COPS program, analysts in the Center for Data Analysis (CDA) at The Heritage Foundation compared hiring trends of police officers from 1975 to 1993 to hiring trends of officers since COPS was initiated in 1994. The Heritage study, published in 2000, found that COPS grants might have placed only 40,000 additional officers on the street by 1998--a number far short of its objective.39

A similar estimate appeared in the National Evaluation of the COPS Program, also released in 2000. This report, funded by the COPS office and published by the Department of Justice, projected that the number of officers that COPS placed on the streets would, at most, reach a maximum of approximately 57,000 in 2001.40

However, COPS artificially inflated the number of officers added to the street by dubiously translating each $25,000 in Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grant funding into an efficiency gain of one full-time equivalency (FTE).41 COPS counted this assumed FTE gain as one officer reassigned from administrative tasks to the street.42 According to the National Evaluation of the COPS Program, "there has been little, if any, experience base to guide the applicants or the COPS Office in making projections, and the actual contribution of FTEs depends on the percentage of projections actually achieved."43

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General found that some MORE grant recipients have been unable to demonstrate that the grants lead to the redeployment of officers to the streets.44 For instance, when the inspector general asked the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia to provide a list of the officers redeployed to the street with almost $11 million in COPS funding, the Metropolitan Police Department provided a list of 53 officers that were redeployed.45 Of the officers listed, one was deceased, 10 were retired, and 13 were no longer working for the department.46

The estimates by COPS of the actual number of officers added to the street do not account for supplanting--substituting federal funding for local funds that would have been used to fund officers anyway. Audits of grantees suspected of not complying with the grant requirements, conducted by the Justice Department's inspector general, found strong evidence that the COPS office's projections of additional police officers 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."47

Furthermore, the COPS estimate does not account for officer positions that were eliminated by the grantee after the grant funding expired. In a Justice Department survey of COPS-funded agencies, 52 percent of hiring grantees were uncertain about their long-term plans for officer retention, 37 percent would be retained with funds cleared through the attrition of non-COPS-funded officers, 20 percent reported that retention would occur by cutting other positions, and 10 percent reported that the officers would not be retained.48

Prior to these studies, the COPS office claimed that the program "funded" more than 100,000 officers--including officers who may or may not have been newly hired or deployed.49 However, research by The Heritage Foundation and others shows that the COPS program failed to achieve its goal of placing 100,000 more officers on the streets to reduce crime. The National Evaluation of the COPS Program concluded, "Whether the program will ever increase the number of officers on the street at a single point in time to 100,000 is not clear."50 Despite these facts, COPS claims to have put just over 88,000 officers on the beat by 2002.51

Referring to the 100,000-officer goal, Herman Goldstein, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Law School and the leading proponent of problem-oriented policing, said that the number "makes people feel good, but it's a cockeyed notion that when spread over the country, it can have a major impact."52 Goldstein concluded that the 100,000 figure was "a symbolic gesture with relatively little practical use."53


In 2001, the Center for Data Analysis conducted an independent analysis of the COPS program's effectiveness.54 After accounting for yearly state and local law enforcement expenditures and other socioeconomic factors, the CDA found that COPS grants both for the hiring of additional police officers and for technology had no statistically significant effect on reducing the rates of violent crime.

The central argument for the COPS program is that providing additional funds to state and local law enforcement agencies above what they would typically spend on operational expenses is effective in the fight against crime. The results of the Heritage analysis, however, indicate that the major components of the COPS program--its hiring and redeployment grants--have failed to show a statistically measurable effect on reducing violent crime rates.

The COPS hiring and redeployment grants were intended to enable the federal government to help fund the operational costs of local law enforcement agencies and to increase the overall number of officers on their forces--functions that traditionally are the sole responsibility of state and local governments. The findings of the Heritage analysis strongly suggest that merely paying for the operational expenses of police departments is ineffective in reducing violent crime.


President Bush has committed the federal government to funding only programs that work. In the case of COPS, his FY 2004 budget reflects this commitment.

Now that the budget debate has shifted to the appropriating committees of Congress, the President must hold the line on his goal of retargeting the funds of programs that are demonstrably ineffective or of unproven effectiveness. As the President's budget proposal wisely concludes,

Good government--a government responsible to the people whose dollars it takes to fund its operations--must have as its core purpose the achievement of results. No program, however worthy its goal and high-minded its name, is entitled to continue perpetually unless it can demonstrate it is actually effective in solving problems.55

Programs such as COPS with a long history of poor performance are prime candidates for reductions because they not only have failed to achieve their goals, but also have assigned to the federal government functions that fall within the expertise, jurisdiction, and constitutional responsibilities of state and local governments.

David B. Muhlhausen is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.

1. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2004--Appendix (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003), p. 643, at (April 8, 2003). The Administration's plan would not terminate funding for the hiring of police officers allocated in previous fiscal years.

2. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2003--Appendix (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002), p. 644.

3. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2004--Appendix, p. 643.

4. For more information, see Michael Scardaville, "Emphasize How, Not How Much, in Domestic Preparedness Spending," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1628, February 27, 2003.

5. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2004 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003), p. 2, at (April 8, 2003).

6. The $10.6 billion figure was obtained by summing appropriations designated for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the FY 1993 Police Hiring Supplement administered by the Office of Justice Programs. See Public Laws 103-121, 103-317, 104-134, 104-208, 105-119, 105-277, 106-112, 106-553, 107-77, and 108-7.

7. Faith Bremner, "Bush Proposes Major Cut in COPS Program," Gannett News Service, February 10, 2003.

8. Janice A. Roehl, Calvin C. Johnson, Michael E. Buerger, Stephen J. Gaffigan, Elizabeth A. Langston, and Jeffrey A Roth, "COPS and the Nature of Policing," in National Evaluation of the COPS Program: Title I of the 1994 Crime Act, eds. Jeffrey A. Roth, Joseph F. Ryan, Stephen J. Gaffigan, Christopher S. Koper, Mark H. Moore, Janice A. Roehl, Calvin C. Johnson, Gretchen E. Moore, Ruth M. White, Michael E. Buerger, Elizabeth A. Langston, and David Thatcher (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 2000), pp. 179-245.

9. Ibid., pp. 179-245.

10. Ibid., p. 192.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 205.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. 217.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., p. 228.

18. Ibid.

19. Jeffery A. Roth and Joseph F. Ryan, "The COPS Program After 4 Years--National Evaluation," Research in Brief, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, August 2000, p. 17.

20. Jihong "Solomon" Zhao and Quint Thurman, A National Evaluation of the Effect of COPS Grants on Crime from 1994 to 1999, University of Nebraska at Omaha, December 2001.

21. Office of Management and Budget, Performance and Management Assessments, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2004, at (February 4, 2003), and "Program Assessment Rating Tool: Community Oriented Policing Services," Performance and Management Assessments, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2004, at (February 4, 2003).

22. David B. Muhlhausen, "Do Community Oriented Policing Services Grants Affect Violent Crime Rates?" Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA01-05, May 25, 2001, at

23. COPS awarded Jihong Zhao and Quint Thurman two grants: 2001-CK-WX-K002 ($116,735) and 2001-CK-WX-K053 ($39,902).

24. See David B. Muhlhausen, "Research Challenges Claim of COPS Effectiveness," Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA02-02, April 4, 2002, at

25. Zhao and Thurman, A National Evaluation of the Effect of COPS Grants, p. 6.

26. CDA calculations based on Table 2 in Sidra Lea Gifford, "Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 1999," Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, February 2002.

27. Muhlhausen, "Do Community Oriented Policing Services Grants Affect Violent Crime Rates?"

28. Office of Management and Budget, Performance and Management Assessments, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2004.

29. Hearing, Making America's Street Safer: The Future of the COPS Program, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 107th Cong., 1st Sess., December 5, 2001, pp. 107-705.

30. Ibid., p. 42.

31. Jihong "Solomon" Zhao, Matthew C. Scheider, and Quint Thurman, "Funding Community Policing to Reduce Crime: Have COPS Grants Made a Difference?" Criminology and Public Policy, Vol. 2, No. 1 (November 2002), pp. 7-32.

32. The Office of Management and Budget has noted that "the COPS Office and the study author have refused to make the underlying data available to other researchers." See Office of Management and Budget, "Program Assessment Rating Tool: Community Oriented Policing Services," Performance and Management Assessments, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2004, worksheet, cell E61, at

33. The formal request was made in a letter sent on April 1, 2002, from The Heritage Foundation. COPS replied on June 5, 2002.

34. On June 7, 2001, COPS employee Matthew Scheider requested that The Heritage Foundation provide COPS with the data used in the CDA study. The Heritage Foundation provided COPS with these data via e-mail within 12 minutes of the request.

35. Letter from COPS Director Carl R. Peed to Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner, February 12, 2003.

36. See Public Law 106-554. The "Data Quality Act" is located in section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (H.R. 5658). For the Office of Management and Budget's guidelines for implementing the Act, see Federal Register, Vol. 67, No. 36 (February 22, 2002), pp. 8452-8460.

37. Ibid., p. 8460.

38. U.S. Department of Justice, Fiscal Year 2002 Performance Report & Fiscal Year 2003 Revised Final Performance Plan, Fiscal Year 2004 Performance Plan, p. 100, at (April 16, 2003).

39. Gareth Davis, David B. Muhlhausen, Dexter Ingram, and Ralph Rector, "The Facts About COPS: A Performance Overview of the Community Oriented Policing Services Program," Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA00-10, September 25, 2000, at

40. Christopher S. Koper, Jeffrey A Roth, and Edward Maguire, "Putting 100,000 Officers on the Street: Progress as of 1998 and Preliminary Projections Through 2003," in National Evaluation of the COPS Program: Title I of the 1994 Crime Act, p. 163.

41. Jeffery A. Roth and Joseph F. Ryan, "Overview," in National Evaluation of the COPS Program: Title I of the 1994 Crime Act, p. 12.

42. Ibid.

43. Koper et al., "Putting 100,000 Officers on the Street," p. 151.

44. 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.

45. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Grants to the Metropolitan Police Department, District of Columbia, Executive Summary, GR-30-01-003, December 29, 2000, at (November 30, 2001).

46. Ibid.

47. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, Special Report: Police Hiring and Redeployment Grants, Summary of Audit Findings and Recommendations.

48. Jeffery A. Roth, Christopher S. Koper, Ruth White, and Elizabeth A. Langston, "Using COPS Resources," in National Evaluation of the COPS Program: Title I of the 1994 Crime Act, p. 113.

49. U.S. Department of Justice, Special Report: Police Hiring and Redeployment Grants, Summary of Audit Findings and Recommendations.

50. Koper et al., "Putting 100,000 Officers on the Street," p. 152.

51. COPS claims to have put 88,024 officers on the street through hiring and MORE grants. See Office of Management and Budget, Performance and Management Assessments, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2004.

52. Ted Gest, Crime and Politics: Big Government's Erratic Campaign for Law and Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 183.

53. Ibid.

54. Muhlhausen, "Do Community Oriented Policing Services Grants Affect Violent Crime Rates?"

55. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the U.S. Government: Fiscal Year 2004, p. 47.

About the Author

David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D. Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis
Center for Data Analysis

Related Issues: Crime