Should we pull the plug on COPS?

Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has been a federal program under the U.S. Department of Justice since 1994. COPS is responsible for the “community policing” and grants funding to state and local law enforcement agencies. The goal of the program was to add 100,000 police officers to the streets by the year 2000. Research done by The Heritage Foundation and U.S. Department of Justice found that COPS did not meet their goal and had a retention rate of less than 50% for the new recruits enlisted through the program.

In New Jersey, COPS funding has helped pay for 4,900 officers at 474 law enforcement agencies since 1994. The program is at risk now due to Congress’s need to scale back spending as part of the plan to raise the debt ceiling. Given the nation’s $14 trillion debt, House conservatives argue the $495 million COPS hiring program is unaffordable. In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal funding bill for 2012 with no money going to COPS. A Democratic attempt to restore funding was defeated on a party-line vote, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) voting in favor and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) voting against. Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) continues to spearhead an effort to return the program funding for next year.

To fund or not fund COPS is more than just a budgetary issue, there is also a question of constitutionality. The program reassigns responsibilities and control from state and local governments to federal offices in the Department of Justice. The program breaches constitutional authority in allowing the federal government to excise such power over local municipalities.  As James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, wrote in the Federalist Papers #45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those of which are to remain in the State government are numerous and indefinite.” For state and local agencies to rely on congressional funding encourages fiscal irresponsibility. Local police departments need to manage their own budgets and recruiting efforts, and not be beholden to federal subsidies to prop them up. With a record of poor performance and unnecessary spending, I see no reason why the plug should not be pulled on the COPS program.

Cross Posted on Save Jersey