- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2001

Area officials have mixed reactions to President Bush's plan to phase out the COPS grant program, which encourages local jurisdictions to hire more police officers, in favor of a new program aimed at improving school security.

The decision could cripple a program that has helped cut crime rates in the region, some say, while others acknowledge that COPS, created in 1994 by President Clinton, was never intended to be an open-ended federal program.

The Bush administration's budget request this year for the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grant program eliminates funds for new hires or redeployment.

Bush officials said the program has simply run its intended course.

"Funding is shifted to an urgent problem, which is schools police at schools," said White House budget chief Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.

Mr. Bush, a Republican, is asking Congress to redirect a portion of the savings from the COPS program cuts to a new program that would help schools across the country hire 1,500 security officers. Savings from the scaled-back COPS will also be used to upgrade high-tech police equipment, improve crime labs and pay for prosecutions for gun-law violations.

Overall funding for community policing programs would be cut 17 percent under the Bush budget.

School security is important, area officials agreed, but most were sorry to see the COPS program go.

"We loved it while it lasted. We just got so much out of this," said Amy Bertsch, a spokeswoman for Alexandria's 284-officer police department.

Her department has added 14 officers since the program started in 1994, she said, and since 1993, crime in the city has gone down more than 30 percent.

The COPS program, she said, seems more flexible than the president's new school security proposal.

Prince George's County Council member M.H. "Jim" Estepp agreed.

"I don't think it's an appropriate replacement," he said. "In general, the Community-Oriented Policing is for a community-wide effort. This [money for school officers] is more specific."

While Mr. Estepp, Upper Marlboro Democrat, calls the phasing out of COPS a "tragic loss," he said the program ran its course and his budget office expected the loss.

Law enforcement officials said COPS had been a boon for area departments, with grants from the program used to hire or redeploy more than 5,400 police officers in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

"The COPS program has brought police and communities together and made our streets safer," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat who oversees the program for Maryland. "There is still much work to be done."

While Mr. Bush would not issue new COPS grants, he is continuing to fund multiyear grants already committed under the program.

That distinction is important to law enforcers, including Wicomico County Sheriff Hunter Nelms, a Democrat whose department has added 23 positions through COPS.

"If it affected existing grants, it would have a catastrophic effect on us," Sheriff Nelms said.

Former President Clinton, a Democrat, proposed the COPS program to put 100,000 new police officers on streets nationwide.

Justice Department officials said the program has surpassed that goal, but others put total deployment as low as 60,000 because of delays in hiring and training officers and buying computers to free up desk-bound officers for street duty.

Since its inception, COPS has disbursed $162 million in grants to Maryland police agencies; $151 million to Virginia; and $33 million to the District, according to the Justice Department.

Most counties and cities in Virginia and Maryland have received aid. The District's $33 million includes funds for national agencies based in the District, such as the Police Executive Research Forum.

Through the COPS program, the Metropolitan Police Department received funds to hire or redeploy 207 officers.

In Virginia, Prince William County added 28 officers, while Loudoun County added five officers and Vienna two.

"It will hurt us as far as a source of revenue drying up, but I wouldn't say it will be disastrous for us," said Major John Patton, chief deputy in the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.

In Maryland, Prince George's County police have added 140 officers through COPS grants, while Montgomery County police have added 38.

While the program has been helpful, according to Montgomery County police Capt. Bill O'Toole, the department had no plans to expand further.

"We are having trouble filling our recruit classes because it's such a competitive job market," Capt. O'Toole said. "We're still struggling to maintain our department at its authorized strength."

The Baltimore Police Department has used a series of COPS grants to hire 292 officers nearly 10 percent of the 3,200-member force.

• John Godfrey contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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