Remember the Clinton administration's promise to put 100,000 cops on the streets? For cities, it seemed like a dream come true: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 authorized $9 billion to hire as many as 100,000 new police. Under a program called Community Oriented Policing Services, the federal government promised to pick up 75 percent of the cost of hiring new police officers for three years; local governments only had to pony up the remaining 25 percent of salary and benefit outlays and agree to fund the cops for the full six years of the grant program. The deal was so good, in fact, that about 9,000 cities nationwide used COPS money to hire an extra 18,000 cops (itself a far cry from the magic number 100,000 bandied about by program supporters).
The bill for the COPS program, however, is due, and cities are now scrambling to figure out how they will pay for their beefed-up police departments. Places such as San Diego–which gave back grants for 40 cops because city officials couldn't guarantee future cash to cover the new hires–are sitting pretty. More typical is St. Louis, which added 23 cops at a cost of about $1.7 million a year. The city's options include raising taxes, cutting other police costs, and squeezing other parts of the city budget. "I truly don't believe that many cities, including us, thought about how we were ever going to be able to afford [the police officers] when the grants ran out," Sgt. Robert Heimberger, St. Louis's COPS coordinator, told USA Today.