As the country and law enforcement community continue to feel the effects of these tough economic times, I have made it a priority to bring groups of law enforcement leaders together for the purpose of discussing emerging issues. I have traveled from coast to coast listening to public safety leaders, elected officials, and community members discuss their most pressing needs. These conversations helped inform the COPS Office as we develop new strategies to better leverage our limited funding and enhance our grant making capacity.
COPS is changing in 2011, and I announced our new approach at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Convention and Conference in Orlando, Florida. The COPS Office is improving the integration of community policing principles into our grant programs to better align the advancement of community policing. These changes further support the COPS mission to advance public safety through community policing by emphasizing the importance of building relationships and solving problems.
In 2011, COPS hiring grants will effectively be problem-solving grants in which police/sheriff agencies can self select from a wide range of problems that have been identified by COPS with considerable input from the field. These problems range from policing in rural areas, to gang violence and homeland security.
The reason why COPS is changing is because in FY2010, the COPS Office received more than 4,000 applications requesting $2.2 billion in funding. We had $298 million for our hiring program. And, in FY2009, COPS received $1 billion under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. We received 7,272 applications requesting $8.3 billion for nearly 50,000 officers.
In this era of tight state and local budgets, the demand for COPS grants has increased significantly. However, it is unrealistic to expect that our grants will be able to close the gap between the hiring needs of law enforcement agencies and the fiscal capacity of local budgets. We must recognize that even in the best of circumstances, we are unlikely to return to an era that could accommodate public safety being 35, 40, or 45 percent of local budgets.
Thus, by better leveraging our hiring grants, COPS will require grant applicants to complete a more comprehensive community policing plan and awardees will be provided tools and resources such as a community policing self-assessment tool and targeted technical assistance and resources based on the community problems they identified in their application.
Both the Associate Attorney General, Tom Perelli, and Vice-President Biden, have expressed their support of this new COPS approach to our competitive hiring dollars. As Vice-President Biden said at IACP “Adding 100,000 new cops was never the goal. The goal was lowering the crime rates [and] the COPS program has proven so successful in driving down crime because of your incredible implementation efforts.” By focusing on problem-specific hiring goals, COPS believes we can further enhance the successful implementation of crime-fighting community policing approaches.
This fall not only marked the announcement of how COPS is changing in 2011, but also COPS 16th Anniversary. To help us celebrate, Attorney General Eric Holder and Associate Attorney General Tom Perelli came to 2 Constitution Square. During their remarks they praised the commitment of COPS staff and the accomplishments we have achieved in advancing the community policing profession through our grants, training/technical assistance, and our knowledge resource products. ASG Perelli alluded to the fact that we have published a new publication every week during our 16 years and disseminated more than 5 million publications. COPS looks forward to continuing that tradition of providing needed resources to the public safety field.
One recent example of COPS providing needed resources is the city of Milwaukee. In 2009, the Milwaukee Police Department received more than $10.2 million to hire new officers through the COPS Hiring Recovery Program. On December 21, I was proud to address these 44 new recruits, as they became officers. As I told them, “You have not chosen an easy path, but you have chosen a challenging and honorable one.” I wish them all the best as they embark on this new endeavor and I wish all of you the best this holiday season and well into the New Year.
Bernard K. Melekian