House Republicans are attempting to live up to their pledge to cut $100 billion from the federal government’s current fiscal year 2011 budget. One of the proposed programs placed on the chopping block is the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grants.
Created in the middle of President Bill Clinton’s first term, COPS promised to add 100,000 new state and local law enforcement officers on the street by 2000. Research by The Heritage Foundation has demonstrated that COPS failed to add 100,000 additional officers to America’s streets and was ineffective at reducing crime.
Lamenting the current attempt of House Republicans to start exercising some semblance of fiscal responsibility, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) stated:
I want to talk about taking police officers off the street. In the Republicans’ haste to make as many cuts as possible, they have proposed eliminating the COPS hiring program … and it has helped put thousands and thousands of police officers and sheriffs on patrol around the country, about 450 of them in Nevada.
Just like in any other state, state and local officials in Nevada—not the federal government—are responsible for funding the staffing levels of Nevada police departments. By paying for the salaries of police officers, COPS funds the routine, day-to-day functions of state and local law enforcement. In Federalist No. 45, James Madison wrote:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
When Congress subsidizes local law enforcement in this manner, it effectively reassigns to the federal government the powers and responsibilities that fall squarely within the expertise, historical control, and constitutional authority of state and local governments. The responsibility to combat ordinary crime at the local level belongs wholly, if not exclusively, to state and local governments.
The COPS program has an extensive track record of poor performance and should be eliminated. It also unnecessarily performs functions that are the responsibility of state and local governments. In fiscal years 2006 and 2007, Congress eliminated all funding for hiring grants. It should do so again.