2000 — the year in review:
Is the COPS office fulfilling its mandate?
While it has yet to achieve all of its objectives, the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services should nevertheless be considered an overwhelmingly successful venture, according to a report last year that evaluated how close the COPS office has come to its goal of putting 100,000 new officers on the street and fostering the concept of community policing.
In “National Evaluation of the COPS Program” a $3.3-million study funded by National Institute of Justice, principal authors Joseph F. Ryan and Jeffrey A. Roth of the Urban Institute found the program to have provided the outside resources, through its grants, that made it possible for departments moving in the direction of community policing to get there.
“I think our phrase was it provided the fuel and not the accelerator pad,” Roth told Law Enforcement News.
Created as part of the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994, the COPS initiative was charged with meeting four objectives in keeping with its vision of community policing: Increasing the number of officers deployed in communities around the nation; fostering problem-solving and community interaction between police and residents; encouraging innovation in policing, and developing new technologies to help reduce crime.
Although it has not hit its target of having 100,000 new police on the beat, said the report, funding for 100,500 officers and equivalents had been allocated as of May 1999. By 2003, the level of COPS-funded police on the streets will have peaked with between 62,000 and 83,900 full-time officers in service. That figures includes 39,000 to 55,400 hired officers and 23,800 to 28,500 equivalents in officer time created by productivity gains through technology and civilianization.
“To those who considered the level of policing in 1994 inadequate,” said the study, “this constitutes success, even though it falls well short of the target of ‘100,000 new cops on the beat.’”
The study did not address the question of whether the COPS program had an effect on crime, but, said Ryan: “You could look at all the criminological theories, they’ve been tested, they’ve been tried. But the only difference between passing the Crime Act and now is that there are more police officers on the street then there were in 1994,” Ryan told LEN.
Gary Cordner, Dean of the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University, believes that the goal of 100,000 new officers — to whatever extent it has been met — has also helped create “some slack in modern police agencies.” The additional personnel, he told LEN, “provides them with the opportunity to do some additional things, such as community policing.” While it is doubtful that all of those resources will be devoted strictly to that goal, “if nothing else,” said Cordner, “it may help create some flexibility for police departments to experiment with some alternative strategies. Personally, I think that’s a plus.”
Although the report observed that the COPS office may not be able to claim credit for the expansion of the community-policing concept during the latter half of the 1990s, the $9 billion spent on grants to departments did jump-start the initiatives of many a local force. It also gave an additional boost to those already on the community-policing path, it said.
The COPS office has accelerated the transition to locally defined versions of community policing, according to researchers. While its strongest gains have been with those grantees whose programs were already underway six years ago, it has advanced the adoption of community policing within law enforcement through several means. By raising the discussion to a national level, it has put the onus on chiefs to implement programs which could be plausibly called community policing, the report said. It also gave chiefs the money to add new initiatives without cutting back on other department functions.
“I think there are very few places that did any anything beyond cosmetics [just] because the COPS grants were available and presented an incentive,” said Roth. “Particularly in larger departments, the chiefs were quite skillful at blending COPS money with their other funding streams to implement their vision.”
The program also facilitated the efforts of law enforcement executives who were inclined toward innovation, said the study, representing “perhaps the largest effort to bolster development of law enforcement technology since the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice.”
According to researchers, by the end of 1997, roughly 55 percent of the 19,175 law enforcement agencies eligible for COPS grants, or 10,537 departments, requested and received funding. Only about 7 percent of those had withdrawn from the program by March 1998, with slightly less than half that number citing the cost of retaining officers after grants had expired.
During the first four years of the program, municipal and county police agencies received three-quarters of the hiring and Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grants, which funded technology, civilians and overtime. Sheriffs and state police agencies received 15 percent, with the remainder going to a variety of special jurisdictions. By the end of 1997, $1.42 billion, or 47 percent of all funds, had been allocated to agencies with four or more grants.
Researchers stressed, however, that these repeat awards helped agencies that suffered disproportionately from serious crime. The 1 percent of grantees with the highest murder rates in 1997 received 31 percent of all COPS grant funds awarded through that year. The 10 percent of agencies with the highest homicide levels received 50 percent of all COPS funds .
It is in the area of fostering problem-solving and relationship-building initiatives — two of the four central tenets of community policing as articulated by the COPS office — that the program has seemed to falter, according to the study. Of the other two tenets, crime prevention and organizational support for program objectives, success varied. Examples of prevention efforts that did not fall into packaged programs, such as DARE and Neighborhood Watch, were rare, said the study.
“There are a couple of things going on,” said Roth. “One is that partnership building is hard and there were not models out there for doing it — and there shouldn’t be. Partnership building is where the differences from one community to the next make the most difference. It’s a slow process, particularly where minority communities are involved and special efforts are needed to overcome the vestiges of past history.”
Ryan also noted that for effective partnership-building, two partners are needed. As a New York City police officer during the 1980s, he said, the agency had reached out to communities through a neighborhood resource center. “We couldn’t find them,” Ryan told LEN. “We begged, we borrowed, we couldn’t get them to come in there.” Unfortunately, he said, when there is “nobody there to do it, police are going to have to do it themselves.”
Support for COPS goals ran a wide gamut among agencies, the study found. The San Diego Police Department, long considered a pioneer in community policing, hired a consultant to help develop the agency’s “Vision, Values, and Mission Statements.” The statements are posted conspicuously in all department facilities and are also on pocket-sized cards given to officers.
Conversely, the researchers found no indication of any systematic shift in philosophy or practice to problem-solving collaborations at the Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Department. The majority of agencies observed during 30 site visits by researchers fell somewhere in the middle.
“Building partnerships with communities by COPS grantees was commonplace in many of the agencies visited, but all too often, partnerships were in name only or simply standard, temporary working arrangements,” the report stated.
The study found two distinct end points to the continuum of partnerships formed under the umbrella of community policing: those that are true collaborations among police, residents, criminal justice agencies and local service providers, and those that include the mere involvement of such parties. The latter, said researchers, relegate participants to bystanders while police retain the “expert” role. Such projects, they said, should be considered a starting point for community policing, not the end point.
Yet within that dichotomy was found substantial variation among grantees’ initiatives and where they fell along that continuum. Researchers cited as examples of problem-solving partnerships involving the Oakland, Calif., Police Department’s Beat Health Unit, in which police and inspectors from code enforcement, sewers and sidewalks work together. In Miami, they noted, “mini city halls” are in place in each of the 12 neighborhoods served by Neighborhood Enforcement Teams, staffed by civilians as well as police, sanitation inspectors and other service providers. A code enforcement officer is permanently assigned to a neighborhood substation in Huntington Beach, Calif., said the study.
“In the final analysis,” it said, “the presence or absence of meaningful and effective partnerships among police, communities and other key stakeholders in jurisdictions bears a direct relationship to the presence or absence of community policing.”
The study also found that in some jurisdictions, traditional enforcement and investigative activities are called problem-solving when these activities are directed toward issues that the community has identified as problems. While these solutions tend to be short-term, when successful, they can encourage residents to reenter public spaces, prompting the development of more lasting results, according to the researchers. Zero-tolerance policies, a visible sign of enforcement-based problem solving, however, can backfire.
It is difficult to diagnose exactly why problem-solving has yet to evolve, said Roth. Unlike partnership-building, problem-solving comes with a paradigm that has been heavily promulgated through the efforts of Prof. Herman Goldstein at the University of Wisconsin and the Police Executive Research Forum, he said.
“Only about half the departments we went to on site were actually doing anything he [Goldstein] would recognize as problem-solving,” said Roth. “Even there, the chosen response very often turned out to be arrest. I don’t think that’s something the COPS office created or made worse, but it is a mystery, given all the opportunities there are to learn about problem solving, how departments do so many different things and label them ‘problem-solving.’ ”