As the battle over how to cut government spending rages on in Washington, a grant that has helped local law enforcement agencies put hundreds of new officers on the streets is emerging as a likely casualty.I've never liked the COPS program since Bill Clinton first proposed it 18 years ago. It violates principles of federalism for the national government to finance local police officers. And for local departments receiving the funds, the grants skew long-term budget planning by letting politicians pretend new officers are "free" when in the long run new hires add permanent fixed costs to departmental budgets that the feds stop paying after three years. The program contributes significantly to misplaced local budgeting priorities, artificially boosting demand for new police hires that doesn't reflect local taxpayers' actual willingness to pay.
A slash to zero funding proposed for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services next fiscal year would butcher a hiring grant that, for local governments that secure it, picks up the tab for three years of new officers' salaries and benefits.
Since its creation in 1994 under the U.S. Department of Justice, the grant has brought 123 officers to the San Antonio Police Department, 14 to the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and a few to smaller area police departments.
As with most federal law enforcement grants, the COPS program is largely a Democratic backed effort, with most of the momentum for killing it coming from the GOP side of the aisle. Given recent dynamics in federal budget negotiations - where Republicans stand strong and united and Democrats flail about like a yard full of scared hens before giving away the farm - Grits would give a slight political advantage to the forces in Washington hoping to eliminate the COPS program. Really there's no telling, though. Once such pork-barrel programs are in place, they build powerful local constituencies (in this case, cities, counties, and law enforcement agencies receiving the grants), taking on their own momentum and becoming nearly impossible to dislodge.
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