- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

One of President Clinton's favorite boasts is his claim he put 100,000 new cops on the streets. Mr. Clinton claimed in 1994 that putting the new cops on the street would make Americans "freer from fear" and that "there is simply no better crime-fighting tool to be found" than multiplying the number of government employees packing heat. Vice President Al Gore mentions the cop-hiring binge often, declaring earlier this year: "We're putting 100,000 new police on our streets. More Americans are safer."

But, despite $9 billion in federal spending, the Community Oriented Policing Service's (COPS) 100,000 new police claim is another Washington fraud. "Voodoo math" was how one Florida police chief characterized the Clinton administration's success claims.

Mr. Clinton's new cops are often nothing more than federally paid purchases of laptop computers. In Little Rock, Ark., 40 of the 82 "new" cops are actually "equivalents in technology" new cops created by claiming labor savings as a result of purchasing laptop computers and other equipment.

A 1999 Justice Department inspector general (IG) report concluded that more than 40,000 of the 100,000 "new cops" are actually "equivalents" concocted as a result of time savings attributed to new technology or the hiring of civilians supposedly to do police paperwork or administrative duties. Such grants have their own acronym: MORE, for Making Officer Redeployment Effective.

As usual, the acronym has no relation to how the program actually operates. Seventy-eight percent of police departments that receive MORE grants can provide no evidence that federal aid actually led to more cops on the street, according to the IG. Almost half of police departments simply substitute federal funds for local spending.

Unfortunately, some locales wish the program paid for nothing but laptops. Residents in Johnstown, Ohio, are threatening to abolish the local police department, as the Chicago Tribune reported, because the addition of COPS officers led to the "harassment of average citizens. Residents say officers stop motorists on any pretext, including having too much snow or rust on a license plate." Potsdam, Ohio, a village of 250, received federal money to hire 11 cops. After one crackdown after another, local aldermen voted to suspend the entire police department. In tiny Lavon, Texas, COPS money paid to hire a police lieutenant who "turned the police department into a criminal enterprise, using his powers to commit extortion, marijuana distribution, robbery and mail fraud," as the Wall Street Journal reported. (The lieutenant received nine years in prison for his achievements).

Before COPS, Olympian Village, Mo., had no police force; after receiving a federal grant, the town hired five cops. To raise money for the local government, the police busied themselves setting up illegal speed traps. The new police chief endeared himself to townspeople by attacking a resident with high grass in his lawn and kicking him in the face so hard he broke a bone under the guy's eye, as the Journal noted. Townspeople appealed to Robert Wilkins, the chief prosecutor of Jefferson County, Mo., to investigate the wayward cops. Mr. Wilkins concluded, "I find it positively frightening that the Justice Department would give money to such people."

The Justice Department has little idea how the program actually operates because 94 percent of police departments don't bother submitting mandatory financial status reports (or submit the reports late). The feds make no effort to verify claims of new hires. Nassau County, N.Y., received $26 million and was credited with hiring 327 new cops; an IG audit found that the county actually reduced his cop force by 218 officers, despite the grant.

Mr. Clinton perennially invokes his 100,000 new cops as a way to make average Americans feel their federal government cares about them. But Kristen Mahoney, who worked in the federal program during its launch stage, observed: "The COPS office started off on a wing and a prayer. They threw us into it and said that … we need to spend a billion dollars by the end of the year." The Chicago Tribune examined grants to the nation's 50 largest police departments and found "no correlation between the growth in number of officers and crime rates since 1993."

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore are trying to build on the "success" of the original COPS program with a new "21st century crime bill" that will spend another $6 billion to buy more laptop computers and claim another 50,000 cops hired by 2005. But rather than more cops, we need fewer laws. Clean the statute books of all the laws that make government a public nuisance redirect police efforts to protecting people from violence and the nation will overnight have far more cops than it needs.



James Bovard is the author of the just-published "Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years" (St. Martin's Press).

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