December 9, 2003 | WebMemo on Crime
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.
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. 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."
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.
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. 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.