September 29, 2004

Cops and Robbers

The DLC sent me a nice little press release today discussing the Bush administration's cuts to Clinton's COPS initiative, a much-publicized (at the time) program to put 100,000 new police officers on the street. According to the DLC, conservatives are killing the program because they hate federal control over crime policy, and "they can't bring themselves to admit that
anything other than tougher sentencing was responsible for the
historic reductions in crime during the 1990s." These slanders might all be true, but they also skirt the issue of whether COPS was actually effective or not.

A few years ago Walter Shapiro was complaining that after six years, the COPS program had only hired 88,000 new officers. The most recent numbers—a full 12 years after the program started, show that 101,962 officers have been hired. (Where the Washington Post got its 118,000 number, I have no idea.) That's not exactly a breakneck pace. We also have no way of knowing how many of those police officers would have been hired anyways. Money is perfectly fungible, and COP grants might allow departments to use pre-existing hiring money for other purposes. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office wasn't too impressed with the program either, saying that the benefits of COPS were inconclusive at best.

At any rate, a bit of linking on the blog doesn't prove anything about the program one way or the other. It is rather sad, though, that only the Heritage Foundation has done any real research on the COPS program. The fact is, no one really knows what sort of tactics reduce crime, apart from harsh sentencing (and that has its own problems). There's certainly no reliable correlation between the per-capita number of cops and crime rates. If COPS had some robust research supporting it, then maybe I'd be inclined to lament its passing. But the DLC has provided no such thing.
-- Brad Plumer 5:27 PM || ||