Monday, August 15, 2011

COPS grants skew local budget decisions: Eliminate them as part of federal deficit reduction

Here's a federal budget cut I'd personally welcome, via the SA Express-News:
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.

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.
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.

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.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

The Forensic Community has these same type of federal grants (e.g. Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant "to train, assist and employ forensic laboratory personnel as needed to eliminate such a backlog").

People hired under these grants are guaranteed 3 years "temp" work. If there are no "permanent" openings at the end of 3 years, out the door they go -- which becomes problematic for expert witness testimonial purposes. (If the lab employee no longer works in the lab, who provides the testimony?)

Also, these "temp" employees are much less likely to report lab problems since their accountability for the contents of their lab reports leaves with them as they leave the job.

Of course, Directors running labs with lots of problems love this aspect of the "temp" employee -- all of the work with none of the accountability, and a good unsuspecting, unknowing scapegoat for lab problems (after the "temp" leaves the job).

BarkGrowlBite said...

Grits, you've got this one right. For years, federal grants to hire more cops for whatever reason have had one of two results. When the federal funding ended, the funding was either extended or some of the cops lost their jobs if there were no department vacancies at the time. Of course, the cities who got these grants always thought they would be extended past the time limit.

If you really want to get exercised about federal law enforcement expenditures, just look at what often happens when Uncle Sam provides funding to purchase the latest tech equipment. More often than not those new gadgets end up stored in some dark room never to be used by anyone. Or the funds were used to acquire a military tank-like vehicle which would rarely be used, if ever.

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention the biggest part of the COPS fraud: this isn't cops on the street, it's cops behind a desk for ex-HPD Lee Brown's Community Oriented Policing. This is a feel good program that doesn't fight crime or make arrests.