Congress is Set to Overspend Taxpayer Dollars on the Wasteful COPSProgram

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Congress is Set to Overspend Taxpayer Dollars on the Wasteful COPSProgram

December 9, 2003 4 min read
David Muhlhausen
Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis
David B. Muhlhausen is a veteran analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.

The "Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004" (H.R. 2763) continues Congress' penchant for lavishly spending taxpayer dollars on wasteful and ineffective programs.


A prominent example is the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which Congress proposes to fund at a level of 4.6 times more than the Bush Administration's budget request.[1]


Instead, Congress should follow the President's recommendations regarding eliminating grants to pay for the salaries of state and local police officers and reducing overall funding for COPS because it is supported by an abundance of well-documented evidence:


  • The COPS program has failed as a crime-reduction policy.[2]
  • The COPS program did not meet its goal of placing 100,000 additional officers on the street.[3]
  • There is little to suggest that the COPS program has significantly advanced the community policing movement, which began several years before COPS was created.[4]
  • The COPS program misused taxpayer dollars by producing a self-serving evaluation of its effectiveness and presenting the study as independent research.[5]
  • Further, a review of the U.S. General Accounting Office found that the COPS-funded evaluation was poorly designed and the findings can be interpreted as "equivocal, inconsistent, and inconclusive."[6]

Instead of following President Bush's recommendation and recognizing the failure of COPS to be an effective program, Congress intends to appropriate over $756 million for COPS-$593 million above the President's request. With new spending by the federal government since 2001 growing at an alarming rate-55 percent of this new spending is unrelated to the war on terrorism[7]-Congress can start practicing fiscal discipline by following the President's recommendation for COPS.


The President's FY 2004 budget proposal wisely concluded:


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.[8]


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, Ph.D., 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), pp. 643-644, at (April 8, 2003).

[2]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

[3]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; and 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.

[4]David B. Muhlhausen, "Why the Bush Administration is Right on COPS," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #1647, April 23, 2003, at

[5]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, p. 20. The report was subsequently published as 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.For background information on the COPS-funded study, see Muhlhausen, "Why the Bush Administration is Right on COPS."

[6]Laurie E. Ekstrand, "Technical Assessment of Zhao and Thurman's 2001 Evaluation of the Effects of COPS Grants on Crime," U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO-03-867R, June 12, 2003, p. 4.  For a review of the GAO report, see David B. Muhlhausen, "GAO Critiques Research Touting COPS Program Effectiveness" Heritage Foundation WebMemo #313, July 16, 2003, at

[7]Brian M. Riedl, "Most New Spending Since 2001 Unrelated to the War on Terrorism," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #1703, November 13, 2003 at

[8]Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2004 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003), p. 47, at


David Muhlhausen
David Muhlhausen

Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis