Monday, July 27, 2009

Do COPS hiring grants make sense in a lousy economy?

According to The Crime Report, the Obama Administration is just about ready to roll out its 21st Century version of Bill Clinton's COPS program, where the feds subsidize local law enforcement payrolls in order to hire more officers, with local taxpayers picking up the tab after three years:

The Justice Department expects to announce within two weeks grants to hire about 5,000 local police officers nationwide under a $1 billion program in the new federal economic stimulus law, says Dave Buchanan, acting director of the federal COPS Office. Buchanan told criminal justice organizations at a meeting Friday in Washington, D.C., that the grants amount to only a small fraction of the $8.3 billion requested by law enforcement agencies nationwide. The Obama administration has pledged to seek funds for 50,000 officers.

Congress required that half of the new officers be in jurisdictions with under 150,000 population. In judging the requests, COPS officials looked at local economic conditions, crime rates, and applicants’ record in community policing, among other factors. To make sure that large departments didn’t get a disproportionate share of officers, no agency will be funded for more than 50 officers or more than 5 percent of the total, Buchanan said.
I wonder, though, if the COPS program makes as much sense in the current economic climate compared to when Bill Clinton backed the same idea in the 1990s?

Back then property values and local budgets were booming ever upward, but today many jurisdictions face a budget crisis that economists predict could stretch on for the next several years. So in the 1990s, it was easy for cities to project that, even if they couldn't afford more officers today, they could reasonably predict they'd have more revenue in a few years time. In the current economic climate, though, where future revenue in many jurisdictions is projected to decline, it could be problematic that, as a requirement of receiving the money, "At the conclusion of federal funding, grantees must retain all sworn officer positions awarded under the ... grant."

Using federal money to hire local officers is somewhat of a shift in priorities for the COPS program, which during the Bush era evolved away from direct hiring grants because conservatives viewed it as a violation of federalist principles. Instead, according to a recent program evaluation (pdf) by the US Office of Inspector General, "the focus of COPS grants in recent years shifted from increasing community policing personnel to meeting law enforcement agencies’ equipment needs and funding methamphetamine initiatives."

What's more, says OIG, it's an open question whether DOJ has remotely enough capacity to meet "the challenge of effectively monitoring thousands of new grants collectively worth billions of dollars with a limited staff" of just four people assigned to grant oversight. That's a troublesome shortcoming at a time when DOJ is expanding the number of COPS grants issued by orders of magnitude.

Compared with the Clinton years, I suspect jurisdictions are being much more careful about taking on long-run obligations in exchange for free money today, or at least they should be. That was Governor Rick Perry's reasoning for rejecting federal stimulus money for unemployment payments - he didn't want Texas to be on the hook for expanded eligibility after the federal money ran out - and the exact same analysis applies to hiring more police officers.

RELATED: Another part of Obama's stimulus the Governor should oppose?

BLOGVERSATION: From the LewRockwell.com Blog, "More federal police state stimulus," and from Drug War Rant, "Toward a National Police Force."

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, since it appears we will be letting so many out of prison, makes since to me.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention some of the equipment that is about to be purchased via grant proposals to statewide COG's.

I just attended a meeting and reviwed the requests. Unbelievable what some of these agencies are going to get.

Makes one wonder where the spending priorities are. And some of these proposals will require a retention plan. Funny, most of the requestors cited budget deficits/cuts as the reason for asking for the federal monies.

Anonymous said...

One other comment, not one county agency requested use of COG funds for intervention for those housed in county jails with mental health issues.

And they bark the loudest and say the state won't help.

Anonymous said...

Bad idea. There are too many cops already. I grew up in an E. Europe police state and we had far fewer cops on the streets than one can see in, say, downtown Austin. Cities with budgets in the red have a lot of fat available to trim from the police departments. Just wait until the depression knife reaches the bone...

Boyness said...

We have more than enough cops.

R. Shackleford said...

I believe we have plenty of leos already. If more attention was paid to reducing/combating serious crime instead of revenue generation, we'd have more than enough. But sadly, it seems the police force has been partially transformed into yet another taxation/collection office for state coffers.

Boyness said...

Anonymous said...

Well, since it appears we will be letting so many out of prison, makes since to me.

7/27/2009 07:03:00 PM
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Just have to spend those tax dollars somehow don't we? What an absurd post. How about we STOP spending money on cops and prisons and spend some money on education, job creation and making OUR lives better? You pea-brained law and order morons make me wanna barf!

Anonymous said...

Hey,
I'm a realtor in NW Indiana since some of you don't think we should spend more $$ on COPS/Crime control then I wonder why I can't sell any homes in Gary,IN. They ranked #1 with a 99.9% need for additional officers in the US Dept. of Justice rankings. Give them the money and officers and no doubt we will need to build more prisons.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Re: "I'm a realtor in NW Indiana ... I wonder why I can't sell any homes in Gary,IN."

Speaking for Texans everywhere, I think the question answers itself! ;)

Sorry, couldn't resist. Seriously, where'd you see those rankings and need-percentage online? I couldn't find any information about applicants on the USDOJ website. Post a link, if you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Boyness. There is plenty of law enforcement around my neighborhood, and we definitely do not need anymore! More tax dollars must be spent on rehabilitating folks (counseling, teaching job skills, breaking down barriers to employment for those with any past offense,etc)- instead of the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' mentality. Only in this way will people have a chance at making their lives better, which, BTW- makes everyone's lives better in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Grits' last paragraph hits it on the head. Funding for ten or fifteen officers for three years sounds great until you factor in the underlying costs associated with their employment. Training and equipment for ten "new" officers can cost a department tens of thousands of dollars before they even hit the street. During the three years of grant funding, many cities "horde" the amount of money it takes to employ the officers so that its fiscal impact when the grant expires is minimal. It's in one end and out the other.

Boyness said...

Anonymous said...

Hey,
I'm a realtor in NW Indiana since some of you don't think we should spend more $$ on COPS/Crime control then I wonder why I can't sell any homes in Gary,IN. They ranked #1 with a 99.9% need for additional officers in the US Dept. of Justice rankings. Give them the money and officers and no doubt we will need to build more prisons.

7/28/2009 01:02:00 PM
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Gary, Indiana is a $#!T hole. Sorry, it just is. When Evan Bayh was Governor of Indiana, he dispatched 500 Indiana State Troopers to the streets of Gary in an attempt to get it under control. Guess what? It didn't work. If 500 Indiana State Troopers cannot control Gary, what makes you think throwing more money at cops and prisons is the answer. Some places are just culturally wrong and Gary is one of them.

kaptinemo said...

This is a problem the whole country has. With unemployment rising and the need to spend money on social safety net programs becoming more evident, it will become increasingly difficult for pols to justify hiring more law enforcement.

In an aside, the effect that this economic downturn will have on the 'War on Drugs', with its' heavy reliance upon law enforcement, should become obvious.

For example, it's forcing the early release of non-violent prisoners (the majority of whom were locked up on drug law infractions) from cash-strapped prison systems (and you have to ask the question, if they were safe enough to be released, why incarcerate them to begin with?).

The fiscal 'champagne and caviar' days of the DrugWar are finally over, and the bill is due. A bill we can't afford. Trying to act as if the 'good ol' days' were still in effect by this grant business is ignoring a reality that very soon will be pounding on the doors and desks of politicians, in form of an angry electorate that suddenly needs that money for unemployment insurance. And pols who ignore that fact may find themselves joining the recently unemployed...