Bush: Don't cut COPS

April 16, 2001|By Joseph R. Biden Jr.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush announced plans last week to end our support for police nationwide by slashing the successful Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.

Money to hire new police officers, or to retain officers currently on the payroll, would be cut by more than half. No dollars would be dedicated to adding police to our streets.

In this era of surpluses, giving up on the most successful crime fighting strategy this nation has ever seen would be a monumental mistake.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Congress and administrations of both parties cooperated to craft initiatives to help communities successfully wage an assault on crime.

We created COPS in 1994, a historic accomplishment that helped shift local police departments away from reacting to crimes after they have occurred and toward community collaboration and preventative-problem solving.

The result? COPS has provided funding for more than 115,000 new community police officers in small towns and big cities across the country. Every available crime statistic indicates America's streets are safer today than at any time since statisticians began recording such trends in the early 1960s.

Over the life of COPS, Maryland has received $161,773,539 to hire 2,566 new officers. Before COPS, community police officers accounted for fewer than 4 percent of law enforcement personnel nationwide. Now, more than 20 percent of our police walk their beat or ride a bike, becoming fixtures in their neighborhoods while preventing problems.

Last year, Congress provided more than $1 billion for COPS so communities across the country could continue to get help putting street cops on patrol and to keep the crime rate dropping.

But President Bush apparently disagrees with this approach. His recently released budget ends the federal commitment to police hiring, and he proposes abandoning police departments throughout the country that only recently have begun to stem the tide of violent crime.

Putting more police on the street is only part of an effective crime-fighting strategy. We need to do a better job targeting crime hot spots; recent research shows as much as 50 percent of crimes occur in just 3 percent of all locations.

We need to ensure our officers have access to promising, new 21st century crime-fighting tools, and we must eliminate racial profiling so all our citizens have faith in the criminal justice system.

Now is not the time to give up on our commitment to local police departments. To continue our critical support for the men and women of law enforcement nationwide, I plan to introduce legislation to hire as many as 50,000 more officers and to outfit them with the technologies they need so information about who commits crimes, and where, is readily available.

In the past decade, police and policymakers came together to revolutionize the fight against crime. Our job is not yet done, and President Bush would have been wise to consider past successes before using his first budget to gut a winning public safety strategy.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democrat, is the senior U.S. senator from Delaware and the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He wrote the COPS legislation.

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