President Obama’s plan for turning America around is big on new spending, with insincere promises of budget cuts to come later. In particular, the President called on Congress to spend an additional $5 billion on federal subsidies for the salaries of local police officers and firefighters.
The additional $5 billion would be allocated to the “hiring” grant program operated by Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program administered by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
We’ve seen this playbook before. In 2009, the stimulus bill allocated hundreds of millions of new spending on COPS and SAFER grants. These federal taxpayer dollars were used not to hire additional police officers and firefighters but to pay for the salaries of currently employed police officers and firefighters.
Created in the middle of President Bill Clinton’s first term, COPS promised to add 100,000 new state and local law enforcement officers on the streets by 2000. Research by The Heritage Foundation has demonstrated that COPS failed to add 100,000 additional officers to America’s streets and was ineffective at reducing crime.
Despite millions in grants across the United States, FEMA’s SAFER grant program has not reduced the number of deaths and injuries resulting from fires. A Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report found that SAFER grants that subsidize the salaries of firefighters had no impact reducing firefighter and civilian deaths and injuries. Fire departments that did not receive federal grants were just as successful at preventing fire casualties as grant-funded fire departments.
State and local officials, not the federal government, are responsible for funding the staffing levels of police and fire departments. By paying for the salaries of police officers and firefighters, COPS and SAFER fund the routine, day-to-day functions of police and fire departments. In Federalist No. 45, James Madison wrote:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
When Congress subsidizes local public safety agencies in this manner, it effectively reassigns to the federal government the powers and responsibilities that fall squarely within the expertise, historical control, and constitutional authority of state and local governments. The responsibility to combat ordinary crime and respond to fires and other similar emergencies at the local level belongs wholly, if not exclusively, to state and local governments.
The COPS and SAFER programs have an extensive track record of poor performance and should be eliminated. These grants also unnecessarily perform functions that are the responsibility of state and local governments. Massive new spending on these programs in the 2009 stimulus bill failed to boost economic activity, so why is President Obama calling for a repeat performance?
The answer is simple: The President’s proposal is another sop to the police and firefighter unions. Our nation can no longer afford such wasteful and unwarranted spending.