Budget dispute could imperil 'community policing'
Clinton, Congress disagree on best way to fund COPS
September 8, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton and Congress agree on the goal of increased public safety but not on how to achieve it.
And therein lies a spending dispute that could see the end of COPS, a federal anti-crime program that's become a signature of the Clinton administration.
The outcome could change the way Officer Tony Vidiglione does his job.
Currently, he's the face of community policing in Charles County, Maryland. When he's not in a classroom giving guidance to third-graders, Vidiglione might be found patrolling the same streets he shares with his neighbors.
Although he works for the county sheriff's department, the money comes from COPS -- Community Oriented Policing Services -- which is under U.S. Justice Department jurisdiction.
A centerpiece of Clinton's 1992 campaign, the COPS program was part of a 1994 crime law. It authorized $8.8 billion for grants to state and local police agencies to hire thousands of new officers or redeploy old ones into street work with the community.
Funding for the COPS program expires next year and Clinton wants to extend it through 2005.
But Congress wants to slash nearly all COPS funding from the upcoming budget, a move that would force local law enforcement agencies to drop community policing programs or find another way to pay for them.
Republicans, though, are touting their own program for $1.2 billion in block grants to local law enforcement agencies. While seeming to accomplish the same goal as COPS, the Republicans say the plan would put money directly into the hands of local governments, with less federal involvement.
Under the GOP proposal, the local grants "allow your communities to decide how and when to spend the money", says House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Florida.
Meantime, there's some question about how many officers have actually been hired through COPS.
The Justice Department says nearly 101,000 positions have been funded, but nearly 36,000 of those slots aren't police officers at all.
The legislation that created COPS allows police departments to buy computers or hire civilian workers with their grant money.
They're considered "officer equivalents," because they free desk-bound policemen and women for street duty.
As of now, 55,000 community police are patrolling their neighborhoods under the COPS program and Clinton promises to veto any budget bill that doesn't fund an extension to meet his goal of nearly doubling that number by 2005.
Reporter Jonathan Aiken contributed to this report.
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