It would be unrealistic to expect crime to continue dropping sharply as it did in the 1990s, but that is no reason to undermine the progress brought by successful policies. With recent FBI data showing crime on the rise, it is time to reconsider the massive de-funding of one of the most successful federal anti-crime measures of the 1990s: the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Policing Services (COPS) program. The program, authorized by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, provides grants to state and local police to hire additional officers and adopt aspects of “community policing.”
The COPS program distributed nearly $1 billion in hiring grants to state and local police in each fiscal year from 1995 to 1999. Yet the amount of COPS funding allocated to helping state and local departments hire more police has declined dramatically over the past several years. The funding allocated for this purpose in fiscal 2005 was just $5 million. COPS has been effective in putting more police officers on the street. The best available evidence suggests that more police lead to less crime. Thus, COPS appears to have contributed to the drop in crime observed in the 1990s.
Given that the costs of crime to American society are so large – perhaps as much as $2 trillion per year – even small percentage reductions in crime can reap very large benefits. Our calculations suggest restoring the $1.4 billion COPS budget that prevailed in fiscal 2000 is likely to generate a benefit to society valued from $6 billion to $12 billion. COPS appears to be one of the most cost-effective options available for fighting crime.