Recently, there have been calls for Congress to beef up the
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). From
fiscal year 1996 to FY 1999, the COPS budget peaked at $1.4 billion
annually. Since then, the COPS budget has steadily declined: For FY
2008, it was $320 million.
Created in 1994, COPS was expected to reduce crime by
subsidizing the placement of 100,000 additional police officers on
America's streets. Research by both The Heritage Foundation and the
U.S. Department of Justice found that the program failed. One
Department of Justice study concluded that "[w]hether the program
will ever increase the number of officers on the street at a single
point in time to 100,000 is not clear."
Heritage Foundation evaluations have uniformly found that COPS
grants had little to no impact on crime rates. In 2001, Heritage's
Center for Data Analysis (CDA) conducted an independent analysis of
the COPS program's effectiveness. The CDA evaluation accounted
for yearly state and local law enforcement expenditures, as well as
other socioeconomic factors, in counties from 1995 to 1998. It
found that COPS grants for the hiring of additional police officers
and for technology had no statistically significant effect on
reducing the rates of violent crime.
In 2006, a second CDA evaluation of COPS grants, using data from
1990 to 1999 for 58 large cities, confirmed the earlier conclusion
that the program has done little to reduce crime. In addition, it
found that the ineffectiveness of COPS grants awarded to large
cities may be due to their misuse, with grants awarded to large
cities being used to supplant local police expenditures. Federal
funds were substituted for local funding.
Very Little Impact on Crime
The 2006 CDA evaluation found that COPS grants had a small
effect on the crime rates in large cities. This strongly indicates
that increasing funding for the COPS program will do little to
COPS grants were disbursed in three types: hiring grants, Making
Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grants, and innovative
The hiring grants paid for 75 percent
of the salaries of newly hired officers over three years. Grantees
were required to retain the new officers after the grants expired.
Although the hiring grants were associated with a slight decrease
in robberies, the hiring failed to have a statistically measurable
impact on murder, rape, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft
rates. A 1 percent increase in hiring grants is associated with a
0.01 percent decrease in robbery rates, or a reduction of 0.06
robberies per 100,000 residents. The hiring grants' meager effect
on robberies and the lack of statistically significant findings for
the six other crime categories suggest that new funding for the
hiring grants will do little to help large cities fight crime.
The Making Officer Redeployment Effective
grants provided funding for technology, officer
overtime, and civilian staff salaries. The MORE grants were
intended to redeploy veteran officers from administrative tasks to
community policing and appear to deter more crime than is deterred
by the hiring grants. Though there was no statistically significant
relationship between MORE grants and murder, rape, larceny, and
auto theft rates, the grants had a small deterrent effect on
robbery, assault, and burglary rates. A 1 percent increase in MORE
grants was associated with:
- A 0.007 percent decrease in robberies,
- A 0.005 percent decrease in assaults, and
- A 0.002 percent decrease in burglaries.
For the average large city, the deterrent effect of a 1 percent
increase in MORE grant funding per capita resulted in:
- 0.005 fewer robberies per 100,000 residents,
- 0.03 fewer assaults per 100,000 residents, and
- 0.017 fewer burglaries per 100,000 residents.
The MORE grants have changed since the 1990s. Renamed
"technology" grants, they no longer require grantees to use the
funding to redeploy officers from administrative tasks to community
policing. Instead of the original competitive application process,
the technology grants are awarded through congressional earmarks.
Limiting the MORE grants to earmarks may negate the deterrent
effect found in this evaluation.
The innovative grants provided funding
for addressing specific problems like domestic violence, gangs, and
youth firearms violence. These grants have a statistically
significant relationship with a reduction in the murder rate but no
statistically measurable effect on the other crime rates. A 1
percent increase in innovative grants per capita is associated with
a 0.001 percent decrease in murders per capita, or 0.0002 fewer
murders per 100,000 residents. By the end of the Clinton
Administration, most of the innovative grants were
Are COPS Grants Worth the Cost?
The value of the crimes prevented by COPS grants was estimated
using prior research on the cost of crime to victims. Specifically,
the dollar values of crimes prevented through COPS grants are
estimated on a per capita basis.
A 1996 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study estimated the
cost of crime to victims (victim-cost) based on personal expenses
(e.g., medical care and property losses); reduced productivity
relating to work, home, and school; and quality of life losses. For
the analysis, the NIJ figures are converted into 1995 dollars. For
example, each murder prevented results in an estimated victim-cost
savings of $3.1 million. The victim-cost savings for each crime
prevented are $8,400 for robbery, $25,300 for assault, $1,500 for
burglary, and $3,900 for auto theft.
From 1995 to 1999, large cities spent an average of $3.05 per
capita in hiring grants, $1.36 per capita in MORE grants, and $0.62
per capita in innovative grants. The cost-benefit estimates
indicate that COPS grants did not pay for themselves. (See
Chart 1.) On average:
- Large cities spent $3.05 per capita in hiring grants, which led
to a victim cost-savings of $0.93 per capita-a net loss of $2.12
- Large cities spent $1.36 per capita in MORE grants, which led
to a victim cost-savings of $1.70 per capita-a net gain of $0.34
per capita; and
- Large cities spent $0.62 per capita in innovative grants, which
led to a victim cost-savings of $1.34 per capita-a net gain of
$0.72 per capita.
Thus, average total COPS grant spending of $5.03 per capita in
these cities produced $3.97 in victim-cost savings for a net loss
of $1.06 per capita.
Overall, the innovative grants were allocated the smallest share
of COPS funding and appear to have produced the greatest monetary
benefits. Though the benefits of the MORE grants are not as large
as the innovative grant benefits, the MORE grants produce positive
returns. The hiring grants, which were allocated the largest share
of funding over the years and received the most public attention,
appear to be the least effective of the grants.
Grants Apparently Used to Supplant Local
The ineffectiveness of COPS grants awarded to large cities may
be due to their misuse. The 2006 CDA evaluation found that COPS
grants awarded to large cities were used to supplant local police
expenditures. Federal funds were substituted for local funding.
This finding is supported by multiple audits conducted by the
Department of Justice. Its Office of the Inspector General (OIG)
found that cities failed to hire the number of officers required
and did not comply with other grant conditions. For example, instead
of hiring 249 new officers, Newark, New Jersey, reduced its police
force by 142 officers from FY 1996 to FY 1997.
Other audits indicate that some police departments supplanted
local funding by failing to hire the required number of additional
officers. For example, OIG audits indicated that Atlanta, Georgia,
El Paso, Texas, and Sacramento, California, used COPS grants to
supplant local funding. Atlanta used over $5.1 million in hiring
grants to pay the salaries of officers who otherwise would have
received funding from local sources. After receiving grants to hire
231 additional police officers, El Paso failed to hire the number
of officers required by the grant. Sacramento used over $3.9
million in hiring grants to retain officers funded through earlier
In Washington, D.C., the police department was awarded almost
$11 million in MORE grants to hire 56 civilians and redeploy 521
officers through technology purchases.When the OIG asked for a list
of officers redeployed from administrative duties to community
policing as required by the grants, the list included only 53
officers. Of the 53, one officer was deceased, 10 were retired, and
13 no longer worked for the police department.
COPS appears to have done little to resolve the misuse of its
grants. According to congressional testimony by Justice Department
Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, "in many cases, the response to
our findings was a paper exercise and…the COPS program did
not take sufficient action to either bring the grantee in
compliance, to offset the funds, to recoup the funds or to waive
the funds."Fine testified that COPS did not pay enough
attention to ensure adherence to the grant requirements, including
the hiring of officers, retaining officers, and tracking the
redeployment of officers.
Recent Research Supports Conclusion That COPS Was
Professors John Worrall of the University of Texas at Dallas and
Tomislav Kovandzic of the University of Alabama at Birmingham
recently evaluated the impact of COPS grants in 189 large cities
from 1990 to 2000. The authors found that COPS hiring, MORE,
and innovative grants had little to no effect on crime. Commenting
on the significance of their finding for public policy, the authors
concluded that "a strategy of throwing money at the crime problem,
of simply hiring more police officers, does not seem to
help reduce crime to a significant extent."
Outside the Federal Government's Scope, Expertise, and
Grants that subsidize the routine activities of local law
enforcement assign to the federal government functions that fall
within the expertise, jurisdiction, and constitutional
responsibilities of state and local governments. Combating
ordinary crime is the principal responsibility of state and local
governments. If Congress wants to aid in the fight against crime,
it should limit itself to unique roles that only the federal
government can play. The federal government should not become a
crutch on which local law enforcement becomes dependent.
Programs such as COPS, with a long history of poor performance,
should be eliminated. They have failed to achieve their goals and
have assigned to the federal government functions that fall within
the expertise, jurisdiction, and constitutional responsibilities of
state and local governments. With a drastically smaller budget and
a failed history, COPS is desperately in search of a new mission.
Congress should reject efforts to beef up the program and instead
should eliminate it entirely.
Muhlhausen, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for
Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
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 www.heritage.org/Research/Crime/CDA00-10.cfm;
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 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, National
Evaluation of the COPS Program: Title I of the 1994 Crime Act
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, National Institute of Justice, 2000), p. 163; and U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, "Police Hiring
and Redeployment Grants, Summary of Audit Findings and
Recommendations," Audit Report No. 99-14, April 1999, at
(April 16, 2008).
Koper et al., "Putting 100,000 Officers on the Street," p.
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,
and David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D., "Impact Evaluation of COPS Grants
in Large Cities," Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis
Report No. CDA06-03, May 26, 2004, at www.heritage.org/Research/Crime/cda06-03.cfm.
Muhlhausen, "Do Community Oriented Policing Services Grants Affect
Violent Crime Rates?"
more information on the methodology used to estimate the benefits
of COPS grants, see Muhlhausen, "Impact Evaluation of COPS Grants
in Large Cities," pp. 15-16.
a discussion of the Inspector General audits, see Muhlhausen,
"Impact Evaluation of COPS Grants in Large Cities," pp. 16-18.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General. "Office of
Community Oriented Policing Services Grants to the Newark, New
Jersey Police Department," Executive Summary, Audit Report
No. GR-70-98-007, June 1998, at http://usdoj.gov/oig/grants/g7098007.htm
(April 16, 2008).
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, "Office of
Community Oriented Policing Services Grants to the Atlanta,
Georgia, Police Department," Executive Summary, Audit
Report No. GR-40-98-006, April 1998, at http://usdoj.gov/oig/grants/g4098006.htm
(April 16, 2008); "Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Grants to the El Paso Police Department, El Paso, Texas," Executive
Summary, Audit Report No. GR-80-01-013, May 30, 2001, at
(May 16, 2006); and "Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Grants to the City of Sacramento Police Department, California,"
Executive Summary, Audit Report No. GR-90-98-022, May
1998, at http://usdoj.gov/oig/grants/g9098022.htm
(April 16, 2008).
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,
Audit Report No. GR-30-01-003, December 29, 2000, at
(April 16, 2008).
Hearing, Office of Justice Programs, Subcommittee on
Crime, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives,
107th Cong., 2nd Sess., March, 5, 7, and 14, 2002, p. 109.
John L. Worrall and Tomislav V. Kovandzic, "COPS Grants and Crime
Revisited," Criminology, Vol. 45, No. 1 (February 2007),
David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D., and Erica Little, "Federal Law
Enforcement Grants and Crime Rates: No Connection Except for Waste
and Abuse," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2015,
March 14, 2007, at www.heritage.org/Research/Crime/bg2015.cfm.