If counting the number of cops on the street as a result of this grant is tough, judging whether they had any impact on crime is nearly impossible. The nation's crime rate began a steep decline three years before the COPS law was passed. Communities with high minority populations saw the largest reduction in crime, with or without the COPS program.
The legislation's authors planned for COPS grantees to see progress on 11 crime-fighting fronts, including police-youth programs, preventive patrols, code enforcement to limit disorder, dispute mediation and graffiti eradication, among others. According to the Heritage Foundation, research shows increased participation in only two areas -- late-night recreation programs ("midnight basketball") and victim-assistance programs.
This is, of course, small beer in the scheme of things here in Washington. A meager $10.6 billion. But the story has been repeated a thousand times: a nice idea translated into a federal program that spends and spends without the taxpayer ever having any idea whether it succeeds or not. And if anyone attempts to cut the program, he or she is met by phalanx of self-interested grantees.
It will never end. Sen. John Kerry is now proposing that we spend $50 billion over five years on first responders and other homeland defense expenditures. "The federal government," Kerry declared, "has provided too little support, provided too little leadership and provided too little vision for the common defense or our homeland." That's your money he's coveting. And if Kerry is elected and his program is passed, there is only one guaranteed outcome -- we'll never know whether it did any good at all.