Crime

Do More Cops Equal Less Crime?

Or do the stats disprove the rhetoric?

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The Democratic theme song is "Happy Days Are Here Again," and nowhere do Democrats think that axiom applies better than in the realm of fighting crime. They recall that thanks to legislation passed in 1994, Bill Clinton put 100,000 new cops on the street, and the result was an abatement of violence. Give Democrats their way, they suggest, and we can repeat that success.

Leading the charge is Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who sponsored that bill and is pushing legislation to hire another 50,000 officers, at a cost of $3.6 billion over six years, under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. He says it was because of the last round of hiring that "murder and violent crime rates went down eight years in a row."

It's hard to find Democrats who differ. Among his co-sponsors are fellow presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Christopher Dodd. The House has already passed a similar measure.

But anyone who expects this approach to work as promised should take a closer look at what actually happened the last time. In the first place, the 1994 bill didn't make good on its goal of adding 100,000 cops to the streets. A study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice estimated it produced a net increase of just 82,000, while allowing that it might have been as few as 69,000.

Those numbers aside, the retreat of lawlessness began before any of those new police were sworn in. The murder rate peaked in 1991, and property crime began a steady decline in the mid-1970s. Biden blames the demise of federal hiring grants two years ago for the rise in violent crime in 2005 and 2006. But the murder rate has been essentially stable since 1999, with only minor year-to-year variations. The overall crime rate, meanwhile, continued to fall over the last two years.

Some criminologists find no evidence that the new cops did anything to lower the level of mayhem. A study by John Worrall and Tomislav Kovandzic of the University of Texas at Dallas, published this year in the journal Criminology, concluded that "COPS grants had no discernible effect on serious crime." A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office disagreed, but said the effect was very small. About 95 percent of the decline in crime in the 1990s, it said, was attributable to other factors.

We shouldn't be surprised that adding all those patrol officers would produce little or no improvement. Given the multiple shifts, vacation and sick days, the additional number of personnel on the street at any given moment is only about 10,000, spread across a nation of 300 million people. That's fewer than one extra cop per local police department.

Flooding the zone in high-crime areas might yield significant results. But the money also wasn't targeted at those cities with the worst crime. It was allocated, with majestic impartiality, among places that are dangerous and places that are safe.

As Worrall and Kovandzic note, the average COPS hiring grant was practically a rounding error, amounting to about one half of one percent of a typical department's annual budget. Expecting that amount of money to have a dramatic effect on crime is like losing a pound and thinking you'll need to have all your pants taken in.

"If you doubled the size of the police force," Worrall told me, "you'd expect crime to decline. But at this level, it's not enough to make a noticeable difference."

The sponsors suggest the Bush administration has abdicated its crime-fighting duties by not providing funds for additional hiring. What they conveniently forget is that the program was supposed to be a temporary boost rather than a permanent obligation. Local law enforcement has historically been the responsibility of cities and counties, not the federal government.

If more cops really translate into safer streets, you would think local taxpayers would be more than willing to bear the expense. But if they don't think their safety is worth what it costs, why should the rest of us foot the bill? The idea that residents of one city can finance their police operations at someone else's expense is a fraud. Everyone gets federal money from the COPS program, but everyone also pays for it.

In the case of a new version of the program, what we'd have to pay is clear. What we'd get back is not.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  1. “If you doubled the size of the police force,” Worrall told me, “you’d expect crime to decline. But at this level, it’s not enough to make a noticeable difference.”

    Depends how you define crime.

  2. Depends how you define crime.

    It also depends heavily on what number you began with, plus lots of other things, like where they are concentrated, what they are working on (to your point), etc.

    If you “double” a shift of 5 to 10 and all they are doing is enforcing HOV restrictions one can generate a bunch of lame, but positive, numbers.

  3. Maybe they need to pay for all those ‘MADD’ road blocks.

  4. I was thinking particularly of under-reported copogenic crime.

  5. Yea, M, I was thinking that too.

  6. Guy – Ah. Well, your comment recalled also how many statutes prohibiting “civilians'” innocuous, benign, or laudatory conduct it is cops’ sworn to enforce.

  7. Something similar came up when I met Christopher Hitchens. We both were in agreement that a lot of people and leaders were not taking the GWOT seriously. I added that the Left seems to think that GWOT means we need a lot more union cops and fire fighters, just an excuse to help out their union buddies and suppliers. I d not recall, but I MUST have mentioned the old stand-by “if we need so many more cops why do I keep getting speeding tickets”?

  8. “We both were in agreement that a lot of people and leaders were not taking the GWOT seriously. ”

    This is off-topic, and might even be considered a threadjack attempt, but here goes: When is Reason going to do an article on all of the good progress in Iraq? The surge is working. The mood has shifted from despair to hope over here.

    I can understand opposing US involvement over here, but Reason ought to at least take a look at the accumulating good news if only to sneer that it is all just an illusion built on lies.

  9. wayne,

    No group of people can be without flaw, unless it is the group I let hang around me 🙂

    Truth is, Reason would be reporting the ‘quagmire’ in North Aftica or Normandy in exactly the same way they are reporting the GWOT. Don’t even get me started on the Battle of the Bulge. For a glimpse into how a war movie would have been chosen and written by the Reason staff, see “A Bridge Too Far”.

  10. We need more cops to administer breathalyzer tests to high school kids at school functions. We need more cops to wander around in busy intersections peeking through the windshields of cars to see if the occupants are buckled up. We need more cops to cruise around on trash day to see if people are complying with recycling rules. We need more cops to escort (at high speed) and defend “high value government assets.”

    et c, et c……

  11. Truth is, Reason would be reporting the ‘quagmire’ in North Aftica or Normandy in exactly the same way they are reporting the GWOT. Don’t even get me started on the Battle of the Bulge.

    Maybe your opponents would take your positions more seriously of you chilled out on the bad World Ward II analogies?

  12. And btw, the right pretty much uses the “GWOT” as an excuse to build more big-ticket cold war era military toys to help out their military contractor buddies.

  13. When is Reason going to do an article on all of the good progress in Iraq?

    I’m pretty sure the answer to that question is “never.” It’s a truism in journalism that good news is never as interesting as bad. Most of the stories here slant toward the negative, the result being that libertarianism is perceived by outsiders as a pessimistic, sarcastic political movement.

  14. Most of the stories here slant toward the negative, the result being that libertarianism is perceived by outsiders as a pessimistic, sarcastic political movement.

    I wasn’t born pessimistic or sarcastic, the government made that way…

  15. Ah, whining about “the good news from Iraq.”

    It’s like 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 all over again.

  16. The surge is working.

    There was a political deal among Sunni and Shiite parties, ending the insurgency and passing an oil deal?

    You’d think we would have seen something in the news about that.

  17. Never underestimate the ability of die-hard war supporters to move the goal post.

  18. I became a policeman in 1994 in on of the cities which received the COPS money. I have a few observations:

    1. The COPS grant only provided us with an addition 4 policemen — and the city responded by hiring 4 less policemen that year from its own coffers.

    2. COPS/ DWI Road Blocks, DARE, these are all PC bulls**t programs. We don’t like them and know they don’t reduce crime, but whenever the federal cash cow decides to give some milk, every city says its hungry.

    3. “community policing” is a euphemism for what used to be called “patrol.” Problem is, that we’re so busy answering 911 calls all day, there’s no time for patrol anymore.

    4. Every officer I worked with admitted that the war on drugs was useless. When there’s a demand, they will be a supply.

    5. Let’s all remember that police and fire departments have been the front lines for all of the social experiments in our country and that has a lot to do with the poor moral (and behavior) from many officers. When you have federal judges saying that a police officers height and weight don’t matter to propel a belief that anyone with who means well, can do that job — well that’s just a fantasy, or rather a nightmare we’re all forced to live.

  19. “You’d think we would have seen something in the news about that.

    You mean like today’s news account about mortar and rocket attacks at a 21 month low?

  20. “…and passing an oil deal?”

    No, the war is “about oil”. The US has already taken all the oil. George Bush and Dick Cheney have all of the oil. There is no oil left in Iraq to deal over.

  21. Can we not threadjack this cop thread into Iraq? Maybe?

    Every officer I worked with admitted that the war on drugs was useless. When there’s a demand, they will be a supply.

    So why don’t you all quietly refuse to enforce?

  22. You mean like today’s news account about mortar and rocket attacks at a 21 month low?

    Remember when the President spent his State of the Union Address talking about how the purpose of the surge was to lower mortar and rocket attacks?

  23. You mean like today’s news account about mortar and rocket attacks at a 21 month low?

    Random fact cherry-picking!

    Drink!

  24. “Can we not threadjack this cop thread into Iraq? Maybe?”

    I will cease and desist, as the cops say.

  25. Steve,

    I don’t know what type of community you worked in, but I live in the city that saw the largest drop in crime of any American city during the 1990s. It’s also the city where the community policing concept was first dreamed up and implemented – it was once called the Middlesex Strategy, after Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

    Thanks to the COPS program, the city was able to expand to the rolls of the police force to the largest count in the city’s history, and those additional police were used mainly for foot patrols through neighborhoods.

    The results have been inarguable. It’s not surprising that your community’s decision to use the program just as a budget offset didn’t have an impact on crime, and left you with no more staffing to get ahead of the “putting our fires” curve, but where it has been used as intended, the results have been quite different.

  26. Joe,

    I realize that reduced violence in Iraq is not good news for you. I expect you to continue your mantra of despair until Hillary is the commander in chief, at which point you probably will celebrate good news, as good news.

  27. “Good news from Iraq” would be when the number of U.S. troops and mercenaries declines from the current 300,000+ to less than 50,000. Excuse me, when is that going to happen? If our WWII buffs checked their calendars, they might notice that the defeat of the Axis powers–Germany, Italy, and Japan–took less four years. After close to five years of the war against the “axis of evil,” we’re maybe half way to subdueing one of them.

    Oh, and re 100,000 cops on the streets. No, it didn’t do much to reduce crime, but it did wonders to reduce Democratic vulnerability on the “soft on crime” issue. Sort of like Bush’s prescription drug program, except a lot cheaper. Politics! Ya gotta love it!

  28. Yawn.

    wayne, I don’t think you have any idea how little the yapping of war supporters about good news in Iraq matters to me.

    It’s November 2006. Being told that we’ve turned the corner in Iraq, AGAIN, by the same people who’ve been telling me that for five years concerns me about as much as an email from a former officeholder in Nigeria who needs to move some money out of the country.

    If you have so certain about the direction of the Iraq War, why are you so confident Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president, and not somebody who supports the war?

  29. “Good news from Iraq” would be when the number of U.S. troops and mercenaries declines from the current 300,000+ to less than 50,000.

    Amen. There is no “good news” until our troops are out of that shithole.

  30. NPR made some odd sounds about things turning around somewhat in Iraq this morning. That may not mean anything, but that’s unexpected news from an unexpected source. They also said that the Iraq war is no longer polling very high for either party. We are a fickle, fickle people.

  31. This time, in English.

    wayne, if you are so certain that we’ve turned the corner in Iraq – this time for real! – then why are you so confident that the next president will be a Democrat who is running against the war, rather than a Republic who has supported it all along?

    Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

  32. Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

    A-gain?

  33. “Amen. There is no “good news” until our troops are out of that shithole.”

    And this kind of progress moves that goal closer.

  34. If you have so certain about the direction of the Iraq War, why are you so confident Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president, and not somebody who supports the war?

    Hey Captain Loaded-Question, since when doesn’t Hillary support the war?

  35. Maybe the Reason staff can put up a permanent (rolling?) Iraq thread?

  36. Taktix,

    For the past two years or so. Don’t you read the papers, or the internets, or anything?

  37. I don’t know what NYC did with any “COPS” money, but I’m betting it didn’t put it into foot patrols. In ten years living here I have seen a cop walking down the street maybe twice (not counting special events which are flooded with cops just standing around). They bitch and moan all the time about not getting any respect from “citizens”, but would never deign to get out of their cars and actually mingle with them once in a while.

  38. wayne,

    BTW, the best thing for American liberty is for things to go well enough in Iraq for U.S. soldiers to come home. If the civil war there calms down enough for that to happen, well, great.

  39. “The President has said that the tide has turned, and he expresses confidence that we will achieve victory. And of course the President believes that. That’s the whole purpose of our efforts.” — Ari Fleischer, 2003

    “We’re handing over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government; we’re encouraging more international support for the Iraqi transition; we’re helping the Iraqis take responsibility for their own security; we’re continuing to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure; and we are moving toward free elections. A turning point will come in less than two weeks.” – George W. Bush, 2004

    “When it comes to fighting the threats of our world, when it comes to making America safer, when it comes to spreading the peace, we’re turning a corner, and we’re not turning back.” — George W. Bush, 2004

    “A new Iraqi government represents a strategic opportunity for America – and the whole world, for that matter. … This is a – we believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership.” — George W. Bush, 2006

    “I think – tide turning – see, as I remember – I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of – it’s easy to see a tide turn – did I say those words?”George W. Bush, 2006

    The more things change…

  40. “They bitch and moan all the time about not getting any respect from “citizens”, but would never deign to get out of their cars and actually mingle with them once in a while.”

    Are you nuts? It’s scary out there, with all those crazy civilians obstructing the sidewalk at two in the morning.

  41. I can remember being told how delusional I was being for not recognizing how imminent victory was on Purple Finger Day, too.

    Attacks go up, attacks go down. Deaths go up, deaths go down.

    The conditions that might allow for stability and security in Iraq – the new, dumbed-down definitnion of victory – require, as President Bush and his mouthpieces told us so many times, a political breakthrough among Iraqis. There is no military solution, only a political one.

    War supporters at least pretended to recognize this after the 2005 elections, and agains when describing the purpose of the surge. Now it appears we’re back to where we were after Fallajua and Ramadi – pointing to short-term reductions in the enemy’s ability to operate after a major, unsustainable military offensive as evidence that the war is being won.

  42. There are cops walking around all over my city.

    Did I mention that it had the largest decrease in crime of any city in American during the 1990s, was the birthplace of the Community Policing strategy, and used its COPS money to put community police into neighborhoods as the program intended?

  43. joe, It’s great that crime is declining in your neck of the woods. I, OTOH, live in Detroit, MI. So you’ll excuse me if I don’t share your optimism. Crime is going up. Fortunately we have a Democtatic mayor, Governor and state house, so it’ll all get fixed shortly. 😉

  44. Oh, and as in Boston – the other city pointed to as a great community policing success story – the decline in crime coincided with a marked improvement in communty-police relations.

    If you ask the cops, they’ll tell you that that improvement was key to the reduction in crime, as they both came to know the neighborhoods and the people there much better, allowing them to better understand how to make them safe; and greatly improved the willingness of the public to provide information and assistance to the police.

  45. J sub D,

    Community policing can work anywhere. You just need the will among the politicians and police to make it work.

    William Bratton – the brilliant, professional, community-oriented chief that Rudy Guiliani fired in favor of Bernie Kerick – is turning the LAPD around, and that’s perhaps the most hostile, occupation-oriented department in the country.

  46. Oh yeah, population is going in the reverse direction too. Funny how that works. But the mayor’s got 20 officers to protect him and his family. They get lot’s of overtime. Many are his High School buddies. It is hilarious if you don’t live or work here.

  47. And we’re STILL under court ordered federal oversight because we are unable to fix the department. I’m opposed to privatizing police services, but if you want to do the experiment, go 1 mile north of Windsor, Ontario. We’re getting desperate here. I read the national stats, and overall the country has been getting safer for quite some time. Even Detroit is better now than in the ’70s. But I’ve got to say, it’s been discouraging lately.

  48. J Sub D,

    Would you say Detroit is finally turning a corner?

    *ducks, runs away*

  49. ” Even Detroit is better now than in the ’70s. ”

    Eventually, you run out of abandoned buildings to torch.

  50. J sub D,

    Detroit is a tough case, no question.

    If it’s any condolence, my city endured even worse economic decline and population decline, with the unemployment rate hitting an Iraq-like 30% in the 1980s.

    There’s a lot stacked up against Detroit, no question.

  51. Economics. Better economy, fewer crimes.

  52. Orlando, FL has proven that you can have more cops, more agencies and generally more boots on the street, but if they spend their time playing grabass with strippers and arresting newspaper employees, you’ll end up with a high crime rate, especially violent crime.

  53. I went to Detroit, Rock City, to watch the Bucs and the Lions play (back when we were both in the Norris Division), and fisticuffs were offered to me solely because I was wearing a Bucs jersey. We lost, incidentally. That same jersey was safe in Chicago and in Minneapolis. Did I mention that I had kids with me when this happened and said not a word to provoke anyone? Lovely town.

  54. Wait, there are still people in Detroit!?

  55. Chapman’s piece is a great example of lying with statistics.

    For example, Given the multiple shifts, vacation and sick days, the additional number of personnel on the street at any given moment is only about 10,000, spread across a nation of 300 million people. That’s fewer than one extra cop per local police department.

    Were COPS grants evenly spread across each of America’s police departments? Was the decline in crime caused by reductions in small towns and surburbs? A better analysis would look at the number of police added to the departments that received grants, or to the departments in cities that saw major declines in crime.

    As Worrall and Kovandzic note, the average COPS hiring grant was practically a rounding error, amounting to about one half of one percent of a typical department’s annual budget. What’s a “typical department?” Are we dividing the total money by the total number of police departments in the country again? Why are we doing that?

    And then there’s the difference between a police department’s total budget and its staffing budget. Cruisers, ammunition, and other equipment are expensive. Retirement benefits of expensive. A better analysis would have looked at the % increase this represented in the payroll costs of patrolmen in cities that received money through the program.

  56. Cesar,

    Sure there are. Haven’t you ever seen The Crow or Robocop?

  57. I, OTOH, live in Detroit, MI.

    Is Captain Morgan’s Club de Elegance on Jefferson still open? Great memories.

  58. That’s what you get when you refuse to build a transit system.

  59. Detriot will be safe and wonderful once Hallib….I mean Omni Consumer Products takes over and creates Robocop.

  60. Sentencing has a much bigger effect on crime rates because cops come after the fact. It would take an absurd concentration to really affect the crime rate by stopping them in the act.

    Laws such as three strikes, however, do reduce the criminal population on the streets.

  61. That’s old-fashioned thinking – that cops come “after the fact.”

    It’s been proven wrong by the success of community policing in cities throughout the country.

  62. Hey Captain Loaded-Question, since when doesn’t Hillary support the war?

    When she gives a speech at Yearly Kos. Then I suspect that when she gets in front of the American Legion…

    Do try to remember that Hillary is still a Clinton.

  63. From what I have heard rapid apprehension is one of the biggest deterrents to crime. Moreso than severity of punishment.

    To the extent that community policing aids rapid apprehension* then it will likely be seen as a success.

  64. Do try to remember that Hillary is still a Clinton.

    That depends on how you define “is”. 😉

  65. Non sequitur of the year nominee:

    That’s what you get when you refuse to build a transit system.

    WTF?

  66. Detroit, RC. No transit system – ideological aversion to a transit system, for decades – and now look at it. It’s almost as bad as Gary, Indiana. Which also doesn’t have a transit system.

    COINCIDENCE?!!?

  67. Isaac B,

    Rapid apprehension is promoted through community policing in two ways:

    the decent people are more cooperative, as they don’t see the police as the enemy, or feel loyalty towards criminals, and

    the police come to know who’s who and who’s into what, so start out a couple steps ahead.

  68. Obviously, there can be a positive correlation between criminal apprehensions and the number of cops on duty in normally high crime areas. But where I live, in a low-crime area of suburban Philadelphia, some of the local police departments, which have grown like crabgrass, seem to spend all their time writing traffic tickets, catching kids for underage drinking, crashing high school parties in pursuit of the latter activity, holding lockdowns in the local schools, and generally tormenting the citizens of the township in which they have jurisdiction. Nobody feels any safer or secure from all this. Quite the contrary, people feel harassed, threatened, and apprehensive about the overwhelming police presence in an otherwise pleasant and perfectly safe environment.

  69. joe

    I tend to agree. In fact I was thinking of adding a footnote that said essentially the same things as you did in your second para (in fact I neglected to delete the asterisk). Trouble was I couldn’t say it with the brevity you managed.

    Until police forces get back to Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles there’s not much hope. They can call things by all kinds of fancy names but until the attitudes of cops change nothing will.

    I can’t be bothered to provide a link. Those of you who are not familiar with Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles, let google be your guide.

  70. It’s almost as bad as Gary, Indiana. Which also doesn’t have a transit system.

    Not to be confused with D.C., which does have a very nice transit system.

  71. R C,

    I believe that joe was actually joking–this time–but I believe you just ripped his spine out ? la the Predator with that one. Ouch.

    The Metro was a very nice ride when I worked in D.C. (1995). And massively, massively subsidized, too.

  72. DC in 2007 is a model of redevelopment, with developers flooding in and turning formerly Detroit-ish blocks and neighborhoods into hip and expensive yuppie districts. Sorry, RC, the Market hath spoken, and you’re 20 years out of date.

    I think this is one of those situations of people who don’t know very much about cities thinking they have a good idea about what they’re like because of what they see on the television.

  73. Isaac B,

    I’ve always wanted to ask some of the people who put together the “Middlesex Strategy” if they were inspired by Peel, because 8 of those 9 could come out of a DoJ Community Policing brochure.

  74. is a model of redevelopment, with developers flooding in and turning formerly Detroit-ish blocks and neighborhoods into hip and expensive yuppie districts. Sorry, RC, the Market hath spoken, and you’re 20 years out of date.

    Hmm, I don’t smell the market on this one, I smell government handouts to developers. Mercenaries, really.

    government Official: here’s some money, go kick out the undesirables.

    “the market”: No problem, but we might need a little Eminent Domain help, if you get my drift.

    Government Official: You know the people don’t like that.

    “The Market”: I hear your campaign could use some help. I’m prepared to donate a significant amount to your campaign. But I say again, we may need a little eminent domain help.

  75. US military reversing Iraq troop surge

    I know this means nothing to you state department guys, but to me this looks like progress…

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071113/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/iraq_security_gains

  76. “Sorry, RC, the Market hath spoken,”

    No, the speculators have spoken. Last I checked, the market rejected much of the development in the last 5 years.

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