Friday, October 01, 2010

The Wimpy Approach to funding local police: Federal COPS grants

You'd think that in the wake of the Wall Street financial crisis in subprime lending, by now everyone would have figured out that the pitch "buy now, pay later" - call it the Wimpy approach, from the character in the Popeye cartoon who routinely promised, "I'll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today" - is a recipe for higher costs down the line than one's income base can support. It takes more than one little downturn, though, to kill a bad idea, because that's the fundamental premise behind the feds' COPS program, which yesterday announced grants for 1,400 officer positions nationwide and 158 in Texas, including 50 in Houston and even a few in my hometown. From Juan Lozano at AP:
The grants will pay officers' salaries for three years. Law enforcement agencies getting the awards will be required to pay for the positions for a fourth year.

Five law enforcement agencies around the country were assigned 50 new officers, the maximum under the program. They are: The Houston Police Department; the Tucson Police Department in Arizona; the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department in California; Metropolitan Dade County in Florida; and Puerto Rico Police.
Here's the full Sept. 30 award list (pdf), from which I pulled the Texas grants:

Texas COPS Grants (9/30/10)

Bryan Police Department - 4 - $813,392
Center Police Department - 1 - $160,130
Dayton Police Department - 1 - $139,602
Dickinson, City of - 2 - $283,552
Ferris, City of - 1 - $137,848
Grand Prairie Police Department - 11 - $2,331,021
Greenville Police Department - 2 - $434,668
Hidalgo County - 13 - $2,099,084
Houston Police Department - 50 - $9,843,750
Killeen, City of- 10 -$1,806,230
Kingsville Police Department - 1 -$150,152
La Feria Police Department - 1 - $94,562
Lacy Lakeview, City of - 1 -$133,842
Laredo, City of -22 - $4,369,266
Livingston Police Department - 1 -$177,703
Nacogdoches Police Department - 2 -$389,328
Orange, City of -1 -$224,263
Paris, City of - 2 -$372,036
Patton Village, City of - 1 -$95,553
Pharr, City of - 5 -$845,560
San Juan Police Department - 2 -$280,636
Tyler, City of - 4 - $853,988
Victoria - 5 -$941,215
Vidor Police Department - 1 -$184,857
Waco, City of -12 -$2,304,876
Waller Police Department - 1 -$189,385
Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo - 1 -$133,544

So the feds will pay for these officers for three years, presumably with money borrowed from the Chinese, after which the locals will be obliged to pay for at least one more year, but will be in for a fight with their local police union if they don't continue them in perpetuity into the future. These aren't saving existing jobs, mind you, but creating new positions.

Problem is, many cities are already struggling to pay for their supersized public safety budgets. Accepting these grants will bind future city leadership when it comes time to "trim the fat," as politicians always promise at election time (which I suppose is when, at least in theory, "Tuesday" finally comes). But instead of trimming fat, it'd be wiser to run lean in the first place, assuming no more costs for public safety than municipalities are presently able to cover with their tax base. Looking at recent declines in tax revenues nearly across the board, the Wimpy solution promises payment with money that most cities can't presently foresee, just like borrowers from the subprime mortgage crisis who were able to purchase homes at prices far beyond their actual ability to pay.

So in three years, all these communities can expect plaintive cries from local offiicals that they "have to" raise taxes to pay for public safety - indeed, some may even blame Washington D.C. for their troubles. But the real problem is that local politicians can't help but live beyond the city's means; they aren't thinking about the budget three years from now when someone offers them a freebie today. Like Wimpy, they suppose they'll figure it out on "Tuesday," which in this case will arrive comfortably sometime after the 2012 election cycle.


Anonymous said...

Great. More gypsy cops. Wonderful.

Anonymous said...

sounds like a great plan - here's a job for 3 years and then you're on your own