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Council must avoid committing Shreveport to program

I want to thank readers enthralled, or angered enough, with the pieces that have appeared in this space now into its fifth year for nominating this blog as one of the "Best State Political Blogs" (under Louisiana, obviously), selected as such by the Washington Post's "The Fix" column. Whatever it is that's turning your crank, I'll try to keep it up.


There’s no free lunch in politics, a lesson heretofore not learned by Shreveport’s Mayor Cedric Glover that imposes additional burdens on taxpayers. Let’s hope the City Council is not as oblivious.

Sandwiched within the addition of $2,600 in debt for each man, woman, and child in the U.S. courtesy of Pres. Barack Obama’s no government left behind spending package is a giveaway of much smaller proportions but with notorious history. The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Recovering Program resuscitates a similar philosophy that operated for about a decade starting in the mid-1990s, one that started out with high hopes by its backers but instead turned into a giant government giveaway that produced far less of what it promised at a massive cost hidden from taxpayers.

The 1994 COPS program was a brainchild of the Pres. Bill Clinton Administration which boasted it would put 100,000 officers on the streets by employing new techniques and updated technology that would allow the shifting desk offices to the streets, as well as by hiring new officers. It eventually claimed victory in reaching that number and its advocates also asserted it brought down crime.

But as years passed, the reality of the program revealed differently. Every independent study of the program noted that it fell far short, perhaps by as much as half, in its street-level-placement goal. Further, audits showed a significant chunk of the money did not go to purposes intended, if where it went could be identified at all. Even the assertion that it helped cut crime rates that only now look like they may be back on the rise was shown to be dubious, as research showed other factors proved more important in this decrease and agencies that did not accept these funds experienced similar declines.

Instead, what often happened was cost shifting, where federal dollars simply replaced state and local dollars that went to other purposes, at least temporarily for a condition of the program was after two years the $25,000 per sworn officer subsidy had to be picked up by the agency for at least a year. As a result of that, force levels fluctuated and are estimated as a result of COPS to be not much higher than they would have been without the program’s intervention. A dozen years after its institution the program got out of the business of grants for hiring and confined itself to mainly training and research dissemination.

But the Obama Administration has brought back the original COPS hiring strategy to serve a different purpose this time – allow force levels to be maintained in an era of presumably tighter budgets thanks to the recession it is exacerbating. The entire program is about $1 billion, while Shreveport has indicated it plans to ask for almost $12.5 million of that which will pay for three years worth of salaries.

The strings of the year-extra requirement, plus other monies involved in the hiring and equipping process, however, will cost the city around $8.7 million, and every additional year $4.1 million a year to continue. Further, the effect won’t even be immediate as Shreveport’s Police Department has the capacity to accept only 25 new trainees a year (although the enabling legislation does permit the rehiring of laid-off officers).

At first, it looks like “free” money because of the three years worth of salary payment. But then throw in the extra year requirement and startup costs, and it’s an extra almost $2.2 million per year (if salaries are prorated) for a city that last year experiencing a budgetary crunch which rejected a pay raise for existing officers that summed to near this total because it would create a continuing commitment. And, of course, in reality Shreveporters are paying for it through their federal taxes now and in the future.

Glover’s current budget cut millions from last year’s and acceptance of this money will commit him to finding another extra million dollars a year for three years, with a balloon payment of sorts of five million in four years, with the city’s financial situation as likely to be worse as better then. Given this environment, Shreveport needs to follow the model of other municipalities 15 years ago by forgoing this money and finding other ways to keep adequate public safety within existing means.

Just as the legislation from which this money comes was based upon discredited economic theory and mortgages American children’s futures, this program is based upon a failed strategy and mortgages the city’s future. Shreveport’s City Council needs to step up and reject this ordinance.

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