Bill Straub February 13, 2001, Tuesday Copyright 2001 Scripps Howard, Inc. Scripps Howard News Service February 13, 2001, Tuesday
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- The Bush administration is planning to pull the plug on the anti-crime COPS program that has placed thousands of additional police on the street over the past five years unless Attorney General John Ashcroft intervenes.
Bush aides said the administration will scuttle the Community-Oriented Policing Services program, championed by former President Clinton, and replace it with block grants. That's in keeping with Bush's philosophy of letting local governments determine how best to use federal funds.
The change will be reported in the budget proposal Bush is preparing for Congress by Feb. 28. But the move might be halted if Ashcroft decides to weigh in.
As a Republican senator form Missouri since 1994, Ashcroft worked with Clinton administration officials to gain passage of and funding for the COPS program. The fact that Ashcroft was so willing to align himself with Clinton, whom he severely criticized and voted to remove from office, is viewed by some Bush administration officials as an indication of his devotion to the initiative.
Appearing at his opening press conference Monday, Ashcroft acknowledged the program could be lost as part of a money crunch.
"It may well depend on the level of funding which is available for the program,'' Ashcroft said. "I know there are a number of law enforcement officials around the country who have expressed to me their affection for it.''
Bush is looking to cut spending throughout the federal bureaucracy as he seeks approval of his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut. Reportedly he is looking to slash as much as $1 billion from the Justice Department budget, an initiative that may carry the COPS program with it.
COPS was the most ballyhooed anti-crime program produced by the Clinton administration, with the promise of placing 100,000 police on the street in an effort to lower crime rates. The five-year-old program thus far has added about 70,000 officers to the rolls.
The program initially was funded with an $8.8 billion grant from the Justice Department with an additional $1 billion OK'd for this year's spending plan. In one of his last acts as president, Clinton signed legislation authorizing the distribution of those funds. The program officially sunsets on Sept. 30 unless renewed.
Bush has never been enamored of the COPS program, suggesting during his presidential campaign that he might kill it. He has long been a proponent of sending money back to the states without any strings attached. Under COPS, local governments must use the money for specific purposes. A block grant would afford them the freedom to determine for themselves the most appropriate use for the funds.
Switching to a block grant has drawn flak from Democrats and some law enforcement organizations.
"Cutting funding that helps fight drugs and local law enforcement hire new police officers through the COPS program, in order to pay for a tax cut that will primarily go to the richest 10 percent of the population, is clearly a case of misplaced priorities,'' said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Chester White, an official with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said he's "disappointed'' that the program might fall to the budget ax.
"Local law enforcement programs such as COPS have been an integral part of our success in the war against crime,'' White said.