COPS was a signature plan of Bill Clinton’s presidency: Attack the rising crime rates of the early 1990s by putting 100,000 more cops on America’s streets. With the exception of a few references to the program during last years presidential campaign, (mostly left-wing hit pieces on Bush funding cuts) not much has appeared in the MSM concerning COPS.
Now ten years after program start, and $10 billion spent, a less than encouraging view of COPS has emerged. Audits conducted on only 3% of all COPS grants show $277 million was misspent. Tens of thousands of jobs funded by the grants were never filled, or weren’t filled for long, auditors found. And there’s little evidence that COPS was a big factor in reducing crime.
USA Today has reviewed the audit conducted by the Justice Department. Here are some of the findings:
In Albuquerque, for example, auditors allege that police used $7.4 million of the city’s $12 million in COPS grants not to hire officers but to offset city cuts in the police budget. Albuquerque police deny any wrongdoing. In Novinger, Mo., former police chief Charles Middleton was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay $53,000 in restitution in 2002, after auditors accused him of using grant money to pay his salary and give himself a $6,000 raise.
As the Bush administration begins to shut down the program The Justice Department has only recovered $6 million of the $277 million in grant spending that auditors have questioned. And are still waiting to review documentation from 82 police agencies that have not explained in detail how they spent $111 million.
The key issue, whether the program reduced crime rates, is at best unresolved:
Analysts such as Stanford University’s Joseph McNamara say that a much bigger factor has been the strong economy, which has kept many young people employed and away from crime.
Of three studies on the issue, only one — which was funded by the Justice Department — found that the police hiring program was chiefly responsible for drops in violent crime rates among big cities. The General Accounting Office, Congress’ research arm, dismissed that study as “inconclusive.”
The link between COPS grants and lower crime rates has been further obscured by the experience of cities such as Oklahoma City, which did not participate in the police hiring program — and yet saw crime rates drop by as much as those in cities that got grants.
USA Today has included a chart of top recipients for COPS grants for years, 1994-2004 and number of police officers on duty. NYC heads the list with $422.4 (in millions) spent, 36,693 officers on duty in 1994 and 36,372 officers in 2004. A net loss of 372 officers.
Hardly worth the millions spent. And it appears the program is another Democrat inspired government give away, rife with mis-spent money, no oversight, and ambiguous results.