Idaho received $4.4 million from COPS last year(02/10/2003)
By No Author Designated
Idaho law enforcement agencies are dismayed with a Bush administration proposal to drastically cut a federal program that has helped cities and counties hire more than 100,000 police officers in the past eight years.
In his 2004 budget request, Bush wants to reduce spending on the Community Oriented Policing Services program to $164 million, down from $1.4 billion this year.
Launched in 1995, the program gives police agencies money to purchase equipment such as cameras in patrol cars, help them get extra training, and find and dismantle methamphetamine labs. It also pays 75 percent of new hires´ salaries and benefits for three years, giving local governments time to find money to keep them on permanently. Idaho police received $4.4 million last year from COPS.
“It has certainly been a big benefit for us in the past,” said Nampa Police Chief Curtis Homer, whose department received $300,000 last year to hire two detectives, one patrol officer and one officer to work in the local schools. “I don´t know that the budget money would have been there (to hire them) had we not had the grant.”
Through the years, the Boise Police Department hired 22 officers thanks to the COPS program, said Pat Peterson, the department´s director of administrative support services. It also received a $315,000 grant several years ago to upgrade laptop computers in squad cars so officers can fill out reports in the field, rather than return to the office.
When completed, Peterson said that upgrade would save the equivalent of 12 officers´ time.
The improvements probably would have happened anyway, but COPS allowed the city to do them sooner, she said.
“When we demonstrate a need, the council and the community support us,” Peterson said. “But it has made it much easier for the city to bring (the new officers) on board.”
COPS was designed to expire in 2001, said Charles Miller, a spokesman at the Justice Department, which administers the program. He said COPS met its original goal of putting 100,000 new police officers on the street.
COPS was launched with great fanfare during the Clinton administration. But Republicans have tried to pare back COPS several times, questioning its effectiveness at reducing crime.
White House officials said in the budget proposal released last week that COPS helped hire 117,000 officers, but less than 90,000 of them are actually “on the street.” These officers´ impact on crime is “unclear,” justice officials said.
Miller, the Justice Department spokesman, said the battle against terrorism has forced the Justice Department and other federal agencies to cut back on their budgets to boost spending on homeland security and defense.
Bush´s budget proposal calls for reducing grants that help local police purchase crime-fighting equipment from $282 million this year to $50 million next year. Grants to help police to fight methamphetamine labs would be cut from $70 million to $20 million. And the part of the COPS program that covers new hires´ salaries would be eliminated.
Quint Thurman, a Southwest Texas State University criminal justice professor who studied the COPS program, disagrees with justice officials on its significance. Thurman studied 6,100 COPS grants last year and concluded that the program was cost-effective.
The grants also helped push local departments to adopt community policing, which involves getting the community working with police to cut down on neighborhood crime, he said.
“If you look at all the data, (the COPS program) has tremendous impact on community policing,” Thurman said. “We don´t want cops just guarding things. We want them active in the community.”
Other police officials said cutting the COPS program now comes at a bad time, especially with the federal government relying more heavily on local first responders that include police forces to protect homeland security.
Tom Frazier, head of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Organization, said the Bush administration should not be boosting homeland security funding at the expense of local police. Beat cops are an integral part of protecting the homeland, he said.
“Effective, adequately staffed and well-trained local law enforcement officers are just as much a part of homeland security as are satellites and the military,” said Frazier, a former Baltimore police commissioner and former head of the COPS office under President Clinton.