100,000 More Cops on the Beat

April 02, 1994

President Clinton, Democrats in Congress and the Democratic National Committee have been saying for over a year that one section of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act would provide funds to put "100,000" more "cops on the beat." One interested expert would not make that claim -- till now. That is Attorney General Janet Reno. On several occasions in the past year she has used a lower number or some imprecise estimate such as "up to 100,000."

But on Tuesday in a press conference in Washington and on Thursday in a meeting here with editors and writers of The Baltimore Sun, Ms. Reno said she was now satisfied after checking with the Congress, the White House and the Office of Management and Budget that there would be enough federal aid to provide 100,000 more police officers -- assuming state and local governments come up with their full share of the cost.

There's the rub. That's a big assumption. The crime bill that has passed the Senate and is before the House of Representatives authorizes federal aid in matching grants over the next five years. The non-federal share of the pay for new officers has to be 25 percent the first year and successively more in each of the next four. The tab for 100,000 officers is, very conservatively estimated, at least $5 billion a year. The Senate authorized only $8.9 billion for the first five years of the program.

The Baltimore Police Department's proportionate share of 100,000 new cops would be about 700. We doubt the city could come up with the extra millions to match a federal grant for that number. The legislation says the attorney general may waive that requirement, and probably would for cities with high tax burdens and many poor residents. That's the good news. The bad news is that the legislation requires the attorney general to give "preferential consideration" to communities that offer the most in matching funds. A Montgomery County, for example, could afford the cops Baltimore City couldn't. It could, in effect, outbid us for police officers.

Janet Reno is a former prosecutor from a high-crime urban setting. She knows the real crime problem -- the one that prompted Congress to start talking tough and offering money -- is in cities, not suburbs. She, no doubt, will make the amount of violent crime and the local tax burden the prime criteria for getting federal grant money.

She calls it "community circumstance." It's the right approach to grant-making. But she won't be attorney general forever. What is really needed is a clear and loophole-free mandate in the law to the Department of Justice to see to it that cops-on-the-beat grants are handed out on the basis of real need. These new cops need to be walking city sidewalks, not cruising suburban lanes.

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