Remember Bill Clinton? Before life got serious, Bill Clinton used to work incredibly, just amazingly hard fixing the problems that plagued America. It did not escape his capacious concern that we had a serious crime problem. And so, as he did on so many other issues, President Clinton presided over meetings running late into the night, consumed heroic amounts of Domino's Pizza and came up with a plan! What we needed, he declared, was a new federal program to fund 100,000 new cops on the streets by October 2000.
Who could oppose such an idea? The president even came up with an acronym that would spell it out -- Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). See, he wasn't kidding about how hard he worked.
The president presented his idea to Congress, where it passed because most benevolent-sounding legislation does pass. Those who express doubts and misgivings are usually denounced as being against the professed goal (like education, justice or safe schools), rather than against the particular legislation in question. And so the program became law and the money (our money), more than $10 billion, was doled out.
Did crime decline? Well, as a matter of fact it did. Did the program contribute to this drop in the crime rate? Very doubtful.
The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services performed a self-audit and concluded that the program was working out exactly as planned. The Heritage Foundation, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Justice Department have concluded otherwise.
First, there is the number of cops hired. The Justice Department estimates a maximum of 57,000. But as the Heritage Foundation's David Muhlhausen cautions, this number is high because, under this law, the federal government pays a steadily declining share of each new officer's salary, forcing localities to shoulder an ever larger part. Some communities are responding by eliminating the jobs.
It is also difficult to know for sure how many cops were actually put on the streets through this law because, according to the complex formula devised by the Clinton administration, every $25,000 in new spending by a police department on technology is interpreted to "free up" one officer to pound the pavement. This is an accounting assumption that makes true measurement awfully difficult. Add to this the fact that the federal government suspects, though often cannot prove, that localities use federal funds to supplant local funds they would otherwise have spent, netting out no new police on the streets.