Interim Report on the Effects of COPS Funds on the Decline in Crime during the 1990s

GAO-05-699R Published: Jun 03, 2005. Publicly Released: Jul 07, 2005.
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The enactment of the Public Safety Partnership and Community Policing Act of 1994, Title 1 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCLEA), authorized appropriations of $8.8 billion to advance the practice of community policing as an effective strategy in communities' efforts to improve public safety. It had as a goal adding 100,000 new police officers nationwide. The Attorney General created the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to administer community policing grants. VCCLEA was enacted shortly after a period of increasing violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. In December 1993, the Department of Justice (DOJ) began making community policing grants to state and local law enforcement agencies. By 2001, COPS grants totaling $7.3 billion in obligations had been made to state and local law enforcement agencies, and these agencies had expended about $5 billion of these obligated amounts. The COPS grant expenditures amounted to about 1 percent of total local law enforcement expenditures from 1994 through 2001. During the time that agencies were spending COPS funds, violent crimes declined. One recent study of the effects of COPS grants on crime concluded that the COPS grants contributed to reductions in crime in the 1990s. However, we previously reviewed the study and reported that its methodological limitations were such that the study's results should be viewed as inconclusive. Moreover, neither the study we reviewed nor a second study of the effects of COPS grant funds on crime analyzed specific ways by which COPS funds could affect crime. In response to the inconclusive results of the study we reviewed, Congress asked us to undertake our own independent evaluation of the impact of COPS grants on the decline in crime that occurred during the 1990s. This report provides results to date from our evaluation regarding three interrelated questions about the extent to which, if any, that COPS grants affected the decline in crime in the 1990s: (1) How were the COPS grant funds distributed among local law enforcement agencies, and to what extent did the distribution of funds correspond to the distribution of total crime and violent crime? (2) Were COPS grants associated with changes in policing practices such as proactive problem identification and intervention, collaboration between police and their communities, and a focus on specific places with high concentrations of crime? (3) Did COPS grant funds lead to increases in the number of sworn police officers, and if so, what was the impact of these COPS-funded officers on the decline in crime during the 1990s? Our final report on our evaluation--due for release in fall 2005--will assess additional aspects of these research objectives, such as other distributional issues related to the flow of funds, officers, and crime; cost-effectiveness issues; and the relationship between policing practices and crime.

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