Defunding COPS: Eliminating a Wasteful and Ineffective Grant Program

David Muhlhausen /

Chris Kleponis/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

Chris Kleponis/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee marked up the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2014 last week. While the bill still allocates too much funding for activities that are duplicative or inappropriate for the federal government to undertake, the committee did get something right: It eliminated funding for the failed Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

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 not only failed to add 100,000 additional officers to America’s streets but was ineffective at reducing crime.

State and local officials, not the federal government, are responsible for funding the staffing levels of police departments. By paying for the salaries of police officers, COPS funds 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 police departments 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 at the local level belongs wholly and exclusively to state and local governments.

The COPS program has 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. For this particular program, the House Appropriations Committee made a fiscally wise decision that follows the wisdom of our founders and core principles of our government. When the bill is considered by the entire House, hopefully the majority of Representatives will exercise the same fiscal discipline.