Deadly cuts in anti-crime funds
Tuesday, July 26, 2005

CONTINUING the Clinton program of 100,000 additional community police will be voted on in Congress shortly, and Philadelphia's anti-crime programs could suffer cuts.

      The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which Bill Clinton created in 1994, adds officers, crime-fighting technology, crime prevention initiatives, training and community policing to the nation's streets and schools.

      But under President Bush, the program has experienced a rapid decrease in funding - from $8 billion down to $3 billion annually in 2001-2004 to $500 million in 2005 to $117 million for 2006 (with zero for hiring new police officers under the program).

      Philadelphia has especially felt the burden of losing the ability to staff crime fighting. From 1994 to 2000, the city got eight grants totaling $58.7 million from COPS to add 833 officers. But since 2001, the city got three grants totaling $3.7 million to add only 20 beat officers.

      We are now near 30-year lows in crime, and we want to continue the improvement. The price for inaction is high. Philadelphia last year had 330 murders, 1,001 rapes, 9,814 aggravated assaults, 58,101 combined robberies, burglaries and thefts, and 12,587 motor-vehicle thefts - 81,833 crimes, according to city police.

      The COPS office has allowed the hiring of 118,786 more officers and deputies across the nation, trained 414,201 law-enforcement personnel, government leaders and community members in community policing strategies, provided crime-fighting technology and police-integrity initiatives, and helped clean up meth labs.

      More cops means less crime. The University of Nebraska's evaluation of the effect of COPS grants on crime in 2003 confirmed the obvious link between effective police and crime:

      Each dollar provided through a COPS hiring grant contributed to a 5.3 decline per 100,000 residents in violent crime, and a 21.6 decline in property crimes.

      Sadly for the program as well as for the American people, keeping COPS alive and well financed is not a prerogative for President Bush. Because of its popularity and success, Clinton got great credit for it. That's equally likely why the Bush team wants to kill it. It's unfortunate when a new administration of the opposite party just doesn't want to continue a good program started by the other side.

      The House of Representatives recently passed the appropriations bill that approved the administration's zero-dollar request for COPS hiring programs. When the bill comes up on the Senate floor, funding can be added. The Senate Appropriations Committee just passed a bill June 23 including $2 million for hiring - better than what Bush is offering but still a smidgen of what's needed.

      In addition to cutting funds for the COPS Office, President Bush is also looking to cut funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area by more than half, from $227 million to $100 million.

      Introduced in 1990 to target hot spots for large-scale drug trafficking, the program seizes $64 worth of illegal drugs and drug-related assets for every $1 spent on it - more than paying for itself. Philadelphia has one of the country's best versions - it helps solve more than 7,000 cases annually, and its $4 million annual federal budget is at risk.

      With Pennsylvania currently experiencing a statewide drug crisis - 25 percent more people in treatment since 2001 with an upsurge statewide of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin - cutting the COPS and high-intensity drug programs couldn't come at a worse time.

      Gov. Rendell, who inspired the creation of the Philadelphia high-intensity drug program 10 years ago and has been one of the country's staunchest COPS advocates, expressed his support for more anti-drug funding in Harrisburg last month.

      His comments were on the same day as a press conference in the state capitol commemorating the 35th anniversary of the state's largest drug-treatment corporation, White Deer Run, and helping to make the case to increase the Pennsylvania drug treatment budget by $8 million.

      The "treatment gap" is huge: 631,087 need treatment but only 86,908 receive it, according to the Pennsylvania Health Department.

      With crime and drug rates edging up after years of decline, now is not the time to be cutting funds that keep our streets safe.

Robert Weiner was the spokesman for the White House drug office from 1995-2001. Alexis Leventhal, a policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates, attends Haverford College, where she majors in Growth and Structure of Cities.