The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it has dedicated more than $139 million in grant funding through the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS—kind of on the nose, right?), or more specifically, COPS Hiring Program (CHP).
“The awards provide direct funding to 180 law enforcement agencies across the nation, allowing those agencies to hire 973 additional full-time law enforcement professionals,” the DOJ wrote in a press release.
This is the kind of news that will be received differently depending on who you are, where you’re located, what your experience with police officers has been like and, of course, the color of your skin.
For example, as a Black man in America who has had far more unpleasant interactions with police officers than positive ones, I might struggle to see this announcement as good news, whereas your average white card-carrying member of the “back the blue” brigade who believes the “cops are American heroes” narrative they’ve been learning since grade school—because they’ve never been constant targets for racial profiling, harassment or worse—will celebrate this announcement.
Still, it is my responsibility to be as fair as I can possibly be while reporting on the DOJ’s new anti-crime initiative.
That being said—maaaan, this is some… (OK. I just needed to get that out of my system. I’ll be good now.)
Over the past several years, data has been pretty consistent in showing that, at best, increasing police presence results in a moderate decrease in serious crimes such as homicide and rape. That was definitely the case when Morgan Williams, a Black economist at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, studied FBI data and other public data sources for 242 cities between the years 1981 and 2018.
He and his colleagues found that increasing police presence in densely populated, high-crime and high-poverty neighborhoods did reduce crimes like robbery, rape and aggravated assault. It even found that “larger police forces result in Black lives saved at about twice the rate of white lives saved (relative to their percentage of the population),” according to Planet Money, which also noted that “African Americans are much more likely to live in dense, poverty-stricken areas with high homicide rates.”
From Planet Money:
But, at the same time, Williams and his coauthors also find adding more police officers to a city means more people getting arrested for petty, low-level, victimless crimes, like disorderly conduct, drinking in public, drug possession, and loitering. Black people are disproportionately the target of these low-level arrests, saddling them with crippling court fees and forcing many kids — sometimes unnecessarily — into the criminal justice system.
That’s particularly concerning considering the fact that data shows white people use illegal drugs, possess illegal drugs and sell illegal drugs at higher rates than Black people. Yet Black people are more than six times more likely to be arrested and convicted for drug-related crimes.
It’s also worth noting that police officers disproportionately kill Black people. And while your average white conservative who swears they don’t have a racist bone in their body will claim that’s a result of disproportionate Black criminality, peer-reviewed research shows definitively that is not true. It’s just that a lot of cops are racist. That’s it. So, at best, more cops in Black neighborhoods will somewhat reduce serious crimes, but will certainly increase police racism.
Then there are data-based studies that show no correlation at all between police spending and crime rates.
Hell, there’s even a study that “suggests that it is far more important how police are used than how many there are,” and that “increased police strength alone does not make a difference.” Interestingly enough, that study was published by—*checks notes*—the U.S. Department of Justice.
So, since the DOJ apparently doesn’t believe that more cops equal less crime, what else is it doing besides just funneling in more police officers? Well, according to the press release: “Of the 180 agencies awarded grants today, nearly half will use the funding to focus on building legitimacy and trust between law enforcement and communities.” And that sounds all well and good until you read “CHP provides funds directly to law enforcement agencies to hire new or rehire additional career law enforcement officers and deputies to enhance their community policing capacity and crime prevention efforts.”
It just really seems like that means these agencies aren’t likely to hire people from the community to police their own neighborhoods—a thing Black community members and even Black activists have requested for decades. They’re just bringing in more cops from wherever—a thing that, from our perspective, almost always does more harm than good.
But I guess we’ll see.
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