Earlier this week, the USA Today reported that for the first time in the history of the United States, states and local governments are now dependent on the federal government for the majority of their revenues. While Medicaid is the driving force behind this growing dependency, it is not the only federal program that undermines state and local accountability. The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in particular encourages fiscally irresponsible behavior. Heritage fellow David B. Muhlhausen details:
Boston illustrates how COPS encourages fiscal irresponsibility by local governments. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has blamed his inability to properly staff the Boston Police Department on a lack of COPS funding. During the 1990s, Boston accepted millions of dollars in COPS grants to hire additional police officers. When accepting these grants, Boston promised to retain these officers and maintain the same staffing levels after the federal contributions expired. Instead of developing a plan to retain the officers, Mayor Menino decided to downsize officer staffing after the grants expired, in violation of the federal grant rules. The number of Boston police officers declined from 2,252 in 1999 to 2,036 in 2004–a 9.6 percent decrease. Taking population growth into account, the number of police officers declined by 13.1 percent from 40.4 officers per 10,000 residents in 1999 to 35.1 officers per 10,000 residents in 2004.
Commenting on Boston’s failure to retain COPS-funded officers, a former official in the COPS office pointed out that Boston officials “knew they had to pick up the salaries after the three-year period” of federal funding. Responding to criticism that Boston failed to plan adequately for the phase-out of federal assistance, Mayor Menino’s spokeswoman Jacque Goddard said, “The mayor knew all along the money would run out. We would have expected the federal government to offer additional grants that we would have applied for and received.” Despite the fact that COPS requires recipients to “specify plans for obtaining necessary support and continuing the [funded] program…following the conclusion of Federal support,” Mayor Menino appears to have viewed COPS grants as an entitlement to perpetual federal funding for the officers funded under the original grants.
Unfortunately, when local elected officials fail to adequately staff the police departments under their supervision, the federal government is now used as a scapegoat.