Police corps -- for the suburbs?

May 20, 1992

Against the backdrop of the Los Angeles riots, voices have been raised again urging Congress to pass a police corps bill. As presently written, the police corps legislation is the wrong response to the rioting. It would provide federal funds for unrestricted college scholarships to students who agree to serve in a law enforcement agency for four years. The legislation says the police corps graduates should be used in areas of "greatest need" and where they can be used "most effectively."

That sounds like the big city -- L.A., Baltimore -- but the legislation also calls for state agencies to develop the plans for using graduates and for state and local governments to pay 40 percent of scholarship costs and all hiring costs. Political and fiscal realities are such that the state police and the well-to-do suburban counties will be better able to take advantage of this program than poor subdivisions.

Further, the bill requires that the scholarships be awarded on a competitive basis and encourages states to assign graduates in their own subdivisions. That means more scholarships will go to graduates of good suburban schools than to city school graduates -- and when they finish college they will serve their tours at home. Not exactly a formula for putting more law enforcers in areas of "greatest need."

Sure, it would be nice to have English Lit majors writing speeding tickets on I-95 or M.B.A.s patrolling the malls in Columbia and Potomac, but that is not where criminal activity in Maryland is most threatening and most destructive.

Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., proposed last year that the police corps money and other related federal aid in the crime bill be given directly to state and local police departments on the basis of their present size and be used as they saw fit. The bigger the TC department, the more aid. In opposing this, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., noted, "I would be happy if [Senator Rudman] said, 'I tell you what, we are going to take all the money in this legislation, pick the 10 or 12 worst crime areas in America and give them all [the money].' " Senator Biden objected to "spreading aid so thin."

Maybe Senator Rudman ought to compromise a little and say, "I tell you what, we are going to take the police corps money and earmark it for those students willing to take a course of study relevant to urban policing and then to serve in the 10 or 12 worst crime areas." Or 20. Or 40 or 50. Even that large a number of cities would result in better use of aid than the existing bill with its many hundreds of likely beneficiary cities and counties. This approach might make Joe Biden happy, and it certainly would make a lot of big city mayors and police chiefs and crime victims very happy.

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