Community policing was born in the 1990s when a surge in the national crime rate prompted the Clinton administration to flood the states with Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants that put cops on the streets and in many cases, laptops in their cars.

The original COPS grants resulted from the COPS bill in 1994, which aimed to put 100,000 new police in the communities where they could forge relationships and develop trust among the populace. Later COPS MORE (Making Officer Redeployment Effective) grants allowed police to use the money for crime-fighting technology.

Perhaps coincidentally, the COPS grants paralleled a dramatic drop in crime throughout the '90s. But after 9/11, much of that money dried up or was shifted for homeland purposes. Again perhaps coincidentally, the crime rate took an upward turn for the worse nationally in what one police chief called an epidemic of violence.

With resources now going to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a clip of $10 billion a month, $1 billion of "get Osama bin Laden money" going to Pakistan every year, as well as $34 billion (fiscal 2006) going to the states for homeland security -- though that pie is also shrinking -- police say they're getting squeezed, and it's affecting how they cope with the spike in violent crime.

"The COPS Office over the years was a great source of leveraging technology, but over the last six or seven years, it's pretty well been gutted, and most of the funding that was going to police has been redirected to homeland security or the war effort," said Colorado Springs, Colo., Police Chief Richard Myers. "That left us high and dry, and that's why we have fewer cops on the streets than we did pre-9/11."

White House officials didn't return phone calls requesting a response.

In many midsize cities, police are down in numbers, and cops say they've turned from community-oriented police to "in your apartment police" as they struggle just to get from call to call. Many departments say they've lost their ability to use intelligence or focus on preventive policing because they're mired in answering calls.

"At any given time, darn near every cruiser in an urban jurisdiction may be tied up with social-related, crime-related problems," said Springfield, Mass., Police Commissioner Edward Flynn. "We work hard to create a preventive policing capacity. But we really end up spending an awful lot of overtime because if we just staff up to meet the needs of our calls for service, we don't have sufficient organizational slack to provide a stable presence in public spaces, and people need to see cops in public."

  

Community Involvement
In the early 1990s, with crime rates on the rise, police began getting out of their cars for face-to-face communication with residents. By the time COPS was rolled out in 1994, crime rates had begun to dip in some areas, and community policing garnered much of the accolades. The COPS grants helped further the cause and put anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000 new cops on the streets (depending on whose numbers you use) to forge a bond with communities and gang up on the bad guys. 

The COPS grants required that all new officers took to the streets to spend time with the local citizenry. Crime rates continued to dip, and at remarkable levels -- from 1994 to 2000 violent crime declined by 46 percent nationally.

But after 9/11, the Bush administration focused on homeland security, and direct funding to law enforcement took a detour to homeland security causes. Some funding still winds up with law enforcement agencies, but it's earmarked specifically for homeland security, according to Flynn.

"What those of us in law enforcement noticed in the years after the 9/11 attacks -- particularly when the congressional funding started making its way to local government

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor