The Clinton-Gore administration is tooting its horn about this decade's drop in violent crime. The president gives much credit to his COPS (Community Oriented Police Services) program of putting 100,000 new law-enforcement officers on the nation's streets. This, incidentally, would include 25 new Richmond County Sheriff's Department deputies hired in 1996.
However, an independent study, gleaned from the government's own figures, indicates the 100,000 figure is over-inflated. The study, by the Urban Institute, a non-partisan research group, and confirmed by the Heritage Foundation, a respected conservative think tank, shows the real number is 40,000, if that.
Next year, when the impact of COPS has fully run its course, the feet-on-the-street figure could rise to 57,000, still well below 100,000.
But that's only a part of the bad news. Much of the federal grant money dispensed by the Justice Department went to police departments that didn't have serious violent crime.
For example, Heritage's William Beach points out that law-enforcement agencies in the Sacramento, Calif., area received more than $76 million from COPS between 1993-97, even though its violent crime rate was below the national average. Meanwhile, Nashville, Tenn., area law-enforcement agencies, with nearly three times the violent crime rate of Sacramento, received only $11.8 million.
Also, the Justice Department, after examining 147 "high risk" grant recipients, found that 20 percent used the money to pay officers they were going to hire anyway. But worst of all is that many agencies took the COPS grant and hired only a token number of cops, before diverting the money to other uses.
Some departments even used the money to downsize. Atlanta received $15.3 million in COPS grants between 1993-97, then dropped 73 officers from 1994-98.
Another problem with COPS grants, as Richmond County found out, is that the federal money is phased out over several years and local taxpayers end up footing all the new hires' salaries and benefits.
This is why the Sheriff's Office, which critics say is over-staffed, eats up the largest piece of the city budget each year.
Aside from setting the record straight, there's little that can be done about COPS now, but it is important to keep in mind that Clinton and Gore are championing a plan to use COPS as a model "to put 100,000 new teachers" in the nation's classrooms.
Americans will need a better model than that.