On May 15, 2007, the House passed the COPS Improvement Act of 2007, H.R. 1700, which will provide much needed support to local law enforcement agencies for their community oriented policing (COPS) efforts. This legislation is especially important as local law enforcement agencies struggle with funding gaps to keep officers on the streets.
The COPS Improvement Act will allow for the hiring of up to 50,000 new police officers on the beat over the next 6 years. Community oriented policing has proven to be effective in preventing crime and in getting community cooperation in addressing crimes that do occur. The COPS bill will be a welcome assistance to localities at a time when they are facing the dual challenges of rising crime rates and dwindling resources to hire and keep law enforcement personnel.
Created in 1994, the COPS hiring grants program was enormously successful - helping local law enforcement agencies to hire 117,000 additional police officers. In 1994, Congress established the COPS hiring grants program, otherwise known as the 100,000 Cops-on-the-Beat Initiative. Between 1995 and 2005, COPS hiring grants provided $9 billion to help local law enforcement agencies hire 117,000 additional police officers, spread across every state in the union.
This bill reinvigorates the COPS program - including authorizing $600 million per year for hiring grants, which could fund up to 50,000 new cops on the beat over the next 6 years. The bill authorizes $600 million per year to hire officers to engage in community policing, serve as School Resource Officers, or engage in counter-terrorism duties. Regarding counter-terrorism, the bill explicitly authorizes that COPS hiring grants can be used to hire and train officers to perform “intelligence, anti-terror, or homeland security duties.”
This legislation also:
- Authorizes $350 million per year for COPS technology grants. These grants will allow police agencies to purchase things like lap top computers for patrol cars, crime mapping software, and interoperable communications equipment. For example, in endorsing the bill, the National Sheriffs' Association states, “The technology grants that the bill supports will allow sheriffs to increase their interoperability with other agencies, and also provide sheriffs with the opportunity to obtain necessary state-of-the-art equipment for crime tracking and reporting.”
- Authorizes $200 million per year to help hire community prosecutors. The bill also authorizes funds for community prosecuting programs - including programs that assign prosecutors to try cases in specific geographic areas.
- Provides for hiring police officers coming out of the military. The bill also contains provisions to encourage state and local police agencies to hire former military members for some of the new law enforcement jobs under the bill.
The COPS hiring grants have been proven to reduce crime rates. The program's approach was validated by a study by the nonpartisan General Accounting Office, which found that between 1998 and 2000, COPS hiring grants were responsible for reducing crimes by about 200,000 to 225,000 crimes - one third of which were violent.
The COPS Improvement Act reverses the sharp reduction in COPS funding under the previous Republican-led Congress. Under the Clinton Administration, during the late 1990s, COPS hiring grants were funded at over $1 billion a year. However, by 2003, the Republican-led Congress had scaled back COPS hiring grants to $198 million and by 2005, to $10 million. By 2006, the Congress had completely eliminated the COPS hiring grants program.
At the same time that the Republican-led Congress sharply reduced and then eliminated COPS hiring grants, crime rates began to rise again. In March, the Police Executive Research Forum released a report that found that violent crimes have risen by double digit percentages over the last two years. The Fraternal Order of Police has stated, “Just as the decrease in crime was directly related to an increased focus on hiring law enforcement officers at the state and local level, the more recent increase in certain crimes can be directly related to the loss of federal funds supporting state and local law enforcement.”