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COPS Improvement Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. President, I rise today with Senators LEAHY, REID, WHITEHOUSE and others to introduce the COPS Improvement Act of 2011. This legislation would reauthorize and make improvements to one of the Department of Justice's most successful efforts to fight crime, the Community Oriented Policing Services, COPS, program.

The success story of the COPS program has been told many times, but it is worth repeating. The goal in 1994 was to put an additional 100,000 cops on the beat. Over the next 5 years, from 1995 to 1999, the COPS Universal Hiring Program distributed nearly $1 billion per year in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies in all 50 states to hire additional law enforcement officers, allowing us to achieve our goal of 100,000 new officers.

Common sense told the American people that having more police walking the beat would lead to less crime, and our experience with the COPS program proved that to be true. This unprecedented effort to put more police officers in our communities coincided with significant reductions in crime during the 1990s. As the number of police rose, we saw 8 consecutive years of reductions in crime. Few programs can claim such a clear record of success.

Unfortunately, the success of the COPS program led some to declare victory. Beginning in 2001, funding for the COPS program came under attack. President Bush proposed cuts to state and local law enforcement programs that totaled well over $1 billion during his tenure. Despite bipartisan efforts in Congress to prevent those cuts, state and local law enforcement funding consistently declined. Ultimately, the administration succeeded in eliminating the COPS Hiring Program in 2005.

These cuts have been felt by the people who work tirelessly every day to keep our communities safe, and the consequences have been real. Cities across the country have seen the size of their police forces reduced. Many cities have hundreds of vacancies on their forces that they cannot afford to fill. They have been forced to choose between keeping officers employed and buying vital equipment. The men and women who have sworn to protect us from ever-evolving threats cannot go without either.

Over the past several years, there has been a bipartisan effort in Congress to renew our commitment to local law enforcement by restoring COPS funding. In 2009, we dedicated $1 billion to the COPS program through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds helped state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies create and preserve thousands of law enforcement positions. This boost has gone a long way to help many departments weather the economic downturn, but need is great--the COPS Office received nearly 7,300 applications requesting 39,000 officers and $8.3 billion in funds in response to this grant funding.

We can all agree that local law enforcement needs our unwavering support. One way we can do this is to reauthorize the COPS program through the COPS Improvement Act of 2011. This legislation will re-authorize hiring programs for three specific purposes--general community policing, local counter-terrorism officers, and school resource officers. The bill steps up our commitment to community policing and community cooperation by reauthorizing community prosecutor grants. Technology grants that cut down on investigation time and paperwork are included so that officers can spend more time on the beat and less time behind a desk. The bill also creates an independent COPS Office within the Department of Justice, a step that is important to the program's continued success and oversight. Finally, the legislation revitalizes a Troops-to-Cops program to encourage local police agencies to hire former military personnel who are honorably discharged from military service or who are displaced by base closings.

The bill makes additional improvements to the COPS program by including safeguards to ensure that our money is being spent wisely. For example, it will allow the COPS Office to do more than simply revoke or suspend a grant if a recipient fails to comply with its terms. The COPS Office, at the direction of the Attorney General, would be able to take any enforcement action available to the Department of Justice, such as civil penalties or recoupment of funds.

In addition to strengthening law enforcement's ability to prevent and fight crime, the COPS Improvement Act directly creates jobs and helps local governments cope with the economic downturn without jeopardizing community safety. Furthermore, by hiring more officers we will be better able to combat the crime that harms our economy by driving business opportunities out of distressed neighborhoods, taking with them economic opportunity.

The COPS Improvement Act of 2011 would authorize $900 million per year over six years for the COPS program. It would allocate $500 million per year for the hiring officers, $150 million for community prosecutors, and $250 million per year for technology grants.

To be sure, some will argue that $900 million is too large a price tag. But it is hard to put a price tag on the security of our communities. Investing money in such a successful program with such an important goal is certainly worth the cost. We must also remember that preventing crime from occurring saves taxpayers from the costs associated with victim assistance and incarceration. For that reason, a recent report by the Brookings Institution found ``COPS ..... to be one of the most cost-effective options available for fighting crime.''

It is difficult to overstate the importance of passing the COPS Improvement Act. Because of the success of the program and the need for a renewed commitment to it, the bill has long had the support of every major law enforcement group in the Nation, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Sheriffs Association, the International Brotherhood of Police Organizations, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officials, the International Union of Police Associations, and the Fraternal Order of Police. These law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to make our communities a safe place to live, and they deserve our full support.

I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.


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