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U.S. House Plan to Ax Police Hiring Program Rankles Mayors

The U.S. House wing of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. House wing of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

COPS hiring grants provide money to law enforcement agencies to hire officers to assist with community policing activities.

WASHINGTON — Mayors are displeased with a U.S. House bill that would chop millions of dollars from a grant program that provides money for local law enforcement agencies to hire police.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, hiring program was funded at $194 million in the current fiscal year—although not all of that money went toward hiring, some of it was set aside for other purposes. President Trump’s budget proposal for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year called for a total of $207 million for the program.

But in a bill the House Appropriations Committee was marking up Thursday, money for it was zeroed-out.

Overall, the House legislation includes about $2.2 billion for state and local law enforcement activities—$167 million less than enacted levels in the current fiscal year, and $174 million more than the amount the Trump administration had requested, according to a Democratic summary of the legislation.

The summary also describes $234 million that appears in the COPS Office budget in the bill as an "illusion," because about $188 million in grants were shifted toward the office that were perviously funded under other budget categories.

COPS hiring grants provide money to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire officers that can assist with community policing activities. Community policing is generally geared toward building trust and collaboration between police and the places they serve.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the current president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, made a case this week for the hiring grants, and other COPS initiatives slated for cuts, in a letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee.

The letter said that the hiring grants had helped 13,000 state, local and tribal agencies hire and redeploy roughly 129,000 law enforcement officers.

Landrieu asks that the bill be amended so that the funding for the COPS Office and its programs at least matches the levels in Trump’s budget proposal.

A report issued with the House bill says the legislation would “consolidate” the COPS hiring program into what’s known as the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. Recommended funding for the Byrne grant program in the bill—excluding “carveouts”—is $109 million above where it stands in the current fiscal year, according to the report.

The Conference of Mayors has concerns that the Byrne program is a poor fit for distributing the money for hiring and that it would lack the sort of hiring guidance that the COPS Office provides.

There have been similar attempts by House lawmakers in past years to cut funding for COPS programs, with the money eventually restored in enacted legislation.

This story was updated to include information from a Democratic summary of the House bill.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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