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?
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.
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."