The Heritage Foundation

WebMemo #381 on Crime

December 9, 2003

December 9, 2003 | WebMemo on Crime

When it comes to COPS, USA Today Got it Wrong

Right from the first sentence, a recent USA Today article defending the federal government's Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program contains some misleading and downright incorrect information.[1]

 

The first sentence reads: "The federal program that added more than 100,000 cops to local police forces and helped to cut crime to historically low rates during the past decade is being rolled back because local governments can't afford to keep many of the officers on the street."

 

Issue No. 1: "The federal program that added more than 100,000 cops to local police forces..."

 

By law, local departments were to use the grants only to hire officers they otherwise wouldn't have hired. By this definition, in 2000, a Justice Department study by the Urban Institute found that no more than 60,000 truly new officers had been hired through the program.[2] The Justice Department study 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."[3]

 

Issues No. 2: "The federal program ... helped to cut crime to historically low rates during the past decade..."

 

Yet, a study conducted by The Heritage Foundation found that, after accounting for yearly state and local law enforcement expenditures and other socioeconomic factors, COPS grants both for the hiring of additional officers and for redeployment (MORE grants) did not reduce rates of violent crime by a statistically significant amount.[4]

 

That same Justice Department study found that police departments that reported 54 percent of the nation's homicides since the program began received only 31 percent of its grants.[5] In other words, much of the money went to jurisdictions that already had low crime rates.

As USA Today did point out, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General has found the program to be rife with abuse. This further explains why local governments should pay for local law enforcement. This way, local departments hire only those officers they can afford and thus don't have to reduce force strength when federal grants expire-and city officials won't be tempted in tight budget times to misuse federal funds.


[1]Kevin Johnson, "Federal, Local Cuts Pull Cops Off Streets," USA TODAY, December 2, 2003, A1-A2, at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-12-01-cops-cover_x.htm.
[2] 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, 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), p. 163.
[3] Ibid., p. 152.
[4] 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 www.heritage.org/research/crime/cda01-05.cfm.
[5] Jeffrey A Roth, Calvin C. Johnson, Gretchen Maenner, and Daryl E. Herrschaft with Mary K. Shelley, "The Flow of COPS Funds," 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), p. 65.

About the Author

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

Related Issues: Crime