Will the Bush Administration Hold the Line on COPS?

Report Crime and Justice

Will the Bush Administration Hold the Line on COPS?

May 22, 2002 16 min read

Authors: Ralph Rector and David Muhlhausen

The Bush Administration's budget for fiscal year 2003 proposed major changes at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Among the Administration's recommendations was elimination of the FY 2003 hiring grants that are administered by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).1

The President's recommendation regarding COPS funding is supported by three well-founded observations:

  • As a Justice Department program, COPS is taking on functions at a federal level that rightfully lie within the jurisdiction of states and localities.
  • The COPS program has not achieved its goals and failed to pass an important performance test recommended by President Bush in February 2002.
  • Funding can be made available for crucial new antiterrorism programs by shifting resources away from programs such as COPS that have proved to be ineffective.

In a letter introducing the Administration's FY 2003 budget, President Bush wrote that "Where government programs are succeeding, their efforts should be reinforced.... And when objective measures reveal that government programs are not succeeding, those programs should be reinvented, redirected, or retired."2 The use of performance measures is vital to the Administration's efforts to determine which federal programs are successful and which are not.3 Despite a sizeable monetary investment, thorough and independent evaluations of the COPS program found that it failed to achieve its primary goals of placing an additional 100,000 officers on the streets and reducing crime.

The Administration's budget recommendation to cut funding for this ineffective program is consistent with its goal of funding only those federal programs that pass the evaluation test recommended by President Bush. It now remains to be seen whether the Administration will hold the line on its commitment to outcome-based standards of evaluation by retargeting funds from the COPS program and channeling them to more efficient and vital projects.

The Administration's commitment is currently being tested by Congress. Specifically, the Providing Reliable Officers, Technology, Education, Community Prosecutors, and Training in Our Neighborhood Initiative (S. 924) would authorize an additional $6.9 billion for an expanded COPS program while dropping a standing requirement that grant recipients continue to employ COPS officers with their own resources beyond the term of federal funding.

With crucial funds at stake and a critical anti-terrorist campaign needing support, the Administration cannot afford to continue to provide billions of dollars for COPS hiring grants that have not proven to be effective in reducing crime. The Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Justice should join to give this clear message to Congress, and the Administration should speak out forcefully against the sorts of policies that are embodied in S. 924--policies that appear to be more an attempt to curry political favor than to ensure the safety and security of American citizens.


Throughout the past seven years, the most prominent federal crime-prevention initiative has been the Community Oriented Policing Services program. This program gives grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to increase the number of police officers on the streets.

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 program's inception, many local law enforcement agencies have used their portion of the $10 billion that was appropriated to fund officer salaries, computer technology, and clerical support.4

Failure to Meet Hiring Goals
To evaluate the effectiveness of the COPS program, analysts in The Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis (CDA) compared trends in the hiring of police officers from 1975 to 1993 to trends in the hiring of officers since COPS was initiated in 1994. The 2000 study found that COPS grants may have placed approximately 40,000 additional officers on the street by 1998--a number that was below the number that should have been on duty by the end of that year if the program had been successful.5

A similar estimate appeared in the National Evaluation of the COPS Program that was also released in 2000. This report, funded by the COPS office and published by the Department of Justice, projected that the number of officers COPS placed on the streets would, at most, reach a maximum of approximately 57,000 in 2001.6

Prior to the release of 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.7 However, research by The Heritage Foundation and others shows that the COPS program failed to achieve its goal of actually placing 100,000 more officers on the streets to reduce crime.

Failure to Reduce Crime
Analysis of the COPS grants found that crime fighting was not a priority in the program's implementation. For example, the law enforcement agencies that reported more than half of all U.S. homicides in 1997 received less than one-third of the COPS funding from 1993 to 1997.8

In 2001, the Center for Data Analysis conducted another independent analysis of the COPS program's effectiveness. This analysis looked specifically at the impact of COPS grants on violent crime rates from 1995 to 1998.9 After accounting for state and local police expenditures and socioeconomic factors on a yearly basis, the analysis found that neither COPS grants for hiring additional police officers nor grants for redeployment--Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grants--had a statistically significant effect in reducing the rates of violent crime,10 even though these grants are the major components of the COPS program.

There are two possible explanations for the ineffectiveness of COPS hiring and redeployment grants:

  1. The actual number of officers "added" to the streets was substantially smaller than the level of funding indicates,11 and
  2. Merely paying for operational expenses of law enforcement agencies without a clear crime-fighting objective is not effective in reducing the rate of violent crime.

In many instances, COPS hiring and redeployment grants may have been used for community policing in name only. Recipient agencies may have done the paperwork to apply for grants without ever fully implementing community policing techniques. For example, a DOJ study found that partnerships established by COPS grantees with their communities were often merely nominal and temporary.12 Although developing a proactive crime-fighting strategy and working with the community are extremely important in dealing with crime effectively, agencies that applied for COPS hiring grants were not required to specify how they would use the grants to reduce crime.13 Without accountability, the program could become simply an exercise in disbursing grant funds rather than a coordinated, focused campaign to reduce crime.

The 1997 DOJ review of crime-fighting programs acknowledged that community policing with no clear strategy for targeting crime risk factors is ineffective: "While the COPS Program language has stressed a community policing approach, there is no evidence that community policing per se reduces crime without a clear focus on a crime risk-factor objective."14 Recent research demonstrates that when police clearly identify problems, prioritize them, and address them strategically, their efforts can reduce crime.15

Proponents of the COPS program have argued that providing state and local law enforcement agencies with funding above what they would typically spend on operational expenses is effective in fighting crime. Yet, as the CDA analysis indicates, the major components of the COPS program--its hiring and redeployment grants--have had no statistically measurable effect on reducing violent crime rates at the county level.16

Approximately six months after the publication of The Heritage Foundation's COPS evaluation, researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Southwest Texas State University published a federally funded evaluation of COPS.17 This study (hereinafter referred to as the Nebraska study) was financed through two COPS office grants totaling over $156,000.18 The Nebraska study found that, while redeployment grants failed to reduce crime, two types of COPS grants--hiring grants and narrowly focused grants--reduced crime rates in larger cities with populations over 10,000.19 However, with regard to smaller cities (with populations between 1,000 and 10,000), the Nebraska study revealed that COPS grants were correlated with higher crime rates--hiring grants with an increase in violent crime and property crime, and redeployment grants with an increase in property crime.

Claims of Effectiveness Based on Flawed Research
Undeterred, supporters of the program have emphasized the Nebraska study results regarding larger cities as evidence that COPS is effective.20 However, even this one area of reported program progress is highly questionable, given that there are a number of significant weaknesses in the Nebraska study's methodology.21 Although the 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 fluctuation in the local economy of cities,"22 Nebraska researchers ignored important contributing factors in their own study. The Nebraska study was based 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.

Another highly questionable aspect of the Nebraska 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.23 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 Nebraska study, The Heritage Foundation used a statistical model that took into account state and local investments in policing. 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.


In April 2002, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary reported S. 924, sponsored by Senators Joseph R. Biden (D-DE) and Arlen Specter (R-PA). S. 924 would authorize spending an additional $6.9 billion over six years to fund an expanded COPS program and eliminate the current provision in law that recipients of COPS grants must continue to employ COPS officers after federal funding is expended, paying them out of their own resources.

This change would occur because the bill requires that up to 50 percent of the federal funds reserved for officer salaries be directed to agencies whose original grants have expired--in essence creating a new federal obligation to fund local officers' salaries. This is tantamount to establishing a new federal entitlement for localities. Clearly, such measures should be avoided. Policymakers should recognize and act on their responsibility to identify and promote effective policing activities rather than simply channeling more taxpayers' money to a program that has failed to achieve its goals.


Since 1994, Congress has poured billions of taxpayers' dollars into crime prevention programs the effectiveness of which has never been demonstrated. With a heightened awareness of the need to promote the safety and security of the American people since the September 11 terrorist attacks, crucial resources should be targeted to programs with proven effectiveness. On no account should failed experiments be converted into entitlements for the sake of currying political favor.

To its credit, the Administration has recognized that an important step in reforming DOJ programs is to eliminate the COPS hiring grants. However, it remains to be seen whether the Administration will stand strong in its determination to fund only effective and efficient programs.

To this end, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Justice must send a clear and unified message to Congress that funds for the failed COPS program should be retargeted. Regrettably, the approach embodied in S. 924 will not accomplish this. The Administration should therefore break its silence and speak out clearly against S. 924 and any such attempt by congressional appropriators to maintain or increase funding for COPS.


President Bush has committed himself to funding only programs that work. His FY 2003 budget reflects this commitment time and again. 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 whose effectiveness has not been proven and or that have been demonstrably ineffective.

Programs such as COPS 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. Clear leadership and a unified message from the Administration are now necessary to halt efforts within Congress to continue and even increase funding for programs that have done little to ensure the safety and security of the American people.

David B. Muhlhausen is a senior policy analyst and Ralph Rector is project manager and research fellow in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.

1. Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2003, Appendix (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002), p. 650, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2003/pdf/app13.pdf.

2. Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2003 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002), p. 3, at

3. Ibid., p. 8.

4. The $10 billion figure was obtained by summing appropriations designated for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the fiscal year 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, and 107-77.

5. 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.

6. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Evaluation of the COPS Program, 2000, p. 163.

7. 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. See also Michael R. Bromwich, Management and Administration of the Community Oriented Policing Services Grant Program, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, Audit Division, Report No. 99-21, July 1999.

8. U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, National Evaluation of the COPS Program, Title I of the 1994 Crime Act, August 2000, p. 65.

9. 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.

10. Ibid. It was intended that COPS hiring grants would be used by law enforcement agencies to hire additional officers. COPS redeployment (MORE) grants provide law enforcement agencies with funds for equipment, technology, civilian personnel, or overtime so that officers can be redeployed from administrative duties to community policing. For more information on these variables, see the Appendix in the cited report.

11. For information on the failure of police departments to add officers after receiving COPS grants, see Davis et al., "The Facts About COPS"; U.S. Department of Justice, Special Report: Police Hiring and Redeployment Grants, Summary of Audit Findings and Recommendations; and Bromwich, Management and Administration of the Community Oriented Policing Services Grant Program.

12. 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.

13. For example, the application for the 2000 Universal Hiring Program (UHP) is only four pages long and does not require the applicant to demonstrate that the grant will be used effectively. This application, no longer available on the COPS Web site, was obtained from http://www.usdoj.gov/cops/pdf/ gpa/uhp/uhp_pdfs/e022k0060.pdf (July 17, 2001). For a copy of the application, contact the authors at The Heritage Foundation.

14. Lawrence W. Sherman, "Policing for Crime Prevention," in Lawrence W. Sherman, Denise Gottfredson, Doris MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, and Shawn Bushway, Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising: A Report to the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, February 1977, pp. 37, 41-42.

15. Anthony A. Braga, David L. Weisburd, Elin J. Waring, Lorraine Green Mazerolle, William Spelman, and Francis Gajewski, "Problem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places: A Randomized Controlled Experiment," Criminology, Vol. 37, No. 3 (1999), pp. 541-580, and Anthony A. Braga, David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring, and Anne Morrison Piehl, "Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston's Operation Ceasefire," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 38, No. 3 (2001), pp. 195-225.

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

17. 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.

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

19. Zhao and Thurman, A National Evaluation of the Effect of COPS Grants on Crime from 1994 to 1999. The narrowly focused grants, which Zhao and Thurman call innovative grants, fund specific activities that address such problems as gang violence, domestic violence, and illegal youth firearms possession.

20. Senator Joseph R. Biden, press release, December 5, 2001, at http://biden.senate.gov/~biden/press/release/01/12/2001C05740.html (February 19, 2002).

21. See David B. Muhlhausen, "Research Challenges Claim of COPS Effectiveness," Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA02-02, April 4, 2002. In addition to providing details regarding the weaknesses of the Nebraska study, this report compares the Heritage and Nebraska approaches to 33 other studies that examine the effect of police on crime.

22. Zhao and Thurman, A National Evaluation of the Effect of COPS Grants on Crime from 1994 to 1999, p. 6.

23. 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.


ralph rector
Ralph Rector

Former Senior Research Fellow

David Muhlhausen
David Muhlhausen

Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis