Springfield or a Rochester, [N.Y.]."

Those larger cities, Flynn said aren't as dependent on federal grants because they can tap more indigenous resources. "The burden really falls heaviest on what I'd call the 'cruiserweight' cities. The cities between 100,000 and 300,000 population are the ones that had the biggest overall spikes in violence over the last five years."

In many of those cities, the attrition rate of officers -- through retirement, layoffs and deployment to war -- creates an increased burden. Cities such as Minneapolis, Boston and Detroit employ fewer officers than at the beginning of the decade. The Richmond, Calif., Police Department experienced a 25 percent drop in police officers.

Minneapolis, which has been forced to cut 140 officers since boosting the number to 938 in the late '90s, conversely has seen a rise in robberies by about 20 percent. Detroit is down 1,000 officers, and Richmond and Boston -- two of the cities with the biggest jump in violent crime -- have fewer officers than they did in the '90s.

"We're not being alarmists, but we do believe it's prudent to intervene before one enters a crisis, not after the crisis has occurred," Flynn said, adding the rising trend in violent crime is undeniable. "I'm not going to attribute the crime to law enforcement capacity directly, but I will say that again, nationwide there has been a significant decrease in the number of officers working since the functional ending of the COPS program and with the resultant or coincidental fiscal difficulties of states and cities."

Nobody is willing to say police can prevent rising crime rates, but they do say spending dwindling resources rushing from call to call instead of community policing detracts from the ability to use intelligence from the community and focus on high-priority areas. It also undermines the community's feeling of safety and trust.

In Colorado Springs, Myers said, the situation is critical. "We are increasingly reaching what we call the saturation point, which is when you make a call for service and we don't have one free officer citywide to respond to that call."

Myers' staff recently met to discuss and identify what police activities bring the greatest value to the community and which ones can be eliminated. They may decide to go completely to "cold reporting status" for traffic accidents as they do at busy times of day, meaning that unless there's an injury or drunk driver involved, the police won't come.

  

Less Money, Less Flexibility
Everyone acknowledges a combination of factors led to the lowered crime rate of the '90s, including a strong economy, a decrease in crack cocaine use and a smaller population of young people. Currently there are several factors boosting the surge in crime, such as the resurgence in methamphetamine use and baby boomers' children at an age when they're most likely to commit crimes.

"It's complicated," said Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty. "Talk to any chief and if they say they have control of crime, they're not being honest. You don't, because there are so many social factors involved."

Oklahoma City didn't accept COPS hiring grants because of the stipulation that officers hired had to be kept for at least a year after the grants ran out, and the city didn't think it could match the funds. "I think a lot of communities had that problem," Citty said. "They took advantage of the COPS grants and all of a sudden, they had to fund it themselves."

Yet, as critics of the COPS hiring program quickly point out, Oklahoma City, too, experienced a drop in crime in the '90s, proving that with or without the extra cops, most cities saw a hiatus in criminal activity anyway. Another criticism of the COPS

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