Surprises in looking for those 100,000 police officers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Children murdered. Neighborhoods terrorized. A violent crime every 22 seconds. Those were the images invoked as Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, a bill to put 100,000 police on the streets.
But two years later, by specific intent, those police officers are just as likely to end up in quiet small towns as in dense city neighborhoods devastated by violence.
Of the 43,028 cops funded by August, more than half went to cities with below-average violent crime rates or to towns so small they don’t even report their crime data to the FBI, according to an Associated Press computer analysis.
And one-third of the additions to police departments — counted as more than 14,000 officers — aren’t new cops at all. Instead, that money went to hire civilians for office work, pay overtime or buy equipment. Cities calculated the hours gained in officer street time, added them up, and the Justice Department counted that toward the 100,000 goal.
Yet all of that was what Congress intended.
“Quite simply put, it’s the only way the bill would have passed,” said Bob Scully, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations. “Everyone in this country has a concern about crime and everyone wanted to have a piece of the pie.”
Few applications have been turned down as the government awarded $2.24 billion — early installments on a six-year program that adds officers gradually.
If a department took the time to apply, came up with the minimum 25 percent matching money, demonstrated it could retain the officer after the federal money ran out and showed a commitment to community policing — which aims to connect officers with the neighborhoods they serve — it was sure to get a grant.
Crime rates were not considered.
Given the political reality, the results are not surprising. About half the officers — just over 20,000 — went to cities with 1994 crime rates above the national average of 7.14 violent crimes per 1,000 people.
Departments with below-average violent crime received an additional 18,450 officers. And the rest went to departments that don’t report their FBI statistics.
Crime rates tell only part of the story, said Joe Brann, director of the program within the Justice Department. Police also work with communities in other ways, and the grants further the goal of spreading community policing, no matter what a town’s crime level is, he said.
Besides, he added, even a small amount of crime is unacceptable to most people.
Small towns agree.
Briarwood Beach, Ohio, with 690 residents and one violent crime in 1994, has started seeing drug problems, said Mayor Terry Biddle. Its three-person force doubled with the grant — one of 312 departments that received at least one officer for every violent crime in 1994.
“One full-time police officer might not make any difference in Philadelphia, Washington or New York, but I guarantee that one fulltime officer makes a tremendous impact in our village,” he said.
When Clinton talks about the program on the campaign trail, he doesn’t point out that fewer than half of the 100,000 cops have been funded thus far. Nor does he mention that one-third of the money has gone to police expenses other than new officers.
In Los Angeles, one grant paid for a new computer system. The city figures the system will save each officer a half-hour to an hour in paperwork time each day. Mathematically, that equals 680 new officers.
“We are now able to have more officer time on patrol, as opposed to spending it in the station room writing reports,” said Michael Thompson, director of criminal justice planning. “I think it’s very real.”
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., who bucked his party and helped pass the crime bill, is excited about the community policing, but remains concerned that officers are awarded without regard to crime levels.
For instance, Oklahoma City, with a 1994 violent crime rate nearly twice the national average, didn’t apply for money because it couldn’t afford the matching funds.