The U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office released a study this week that reveals the economic state of cities has eroded the manpower of police forces and their ability to respond to public safety concerns.
Drawing on research from NLC and other national organizations, the study shows that a quarter of American cities surveyed have made cuts to public safety budgets, and by the end of the year, nearly 12,000 police officers and sheriff's deputies will have been laid off. In fact, the study reports that this year could represent the first national decline in law enforcement officer positions in more than 25 years.
The number of officers and deputies laid off only tells half the story. Many localities are utilizing other means to reduce costs; for instance, an estimated 28,000 officers and deputies faced week-long furloughs in 2010. In addition, approximately 30,000 law enforcement jobs are unfilled, which may be an indication that localities are leaving posts vacant as a cost-saving measure.
Agencies seem to be making unprecedented compromises to prioritize response. Some have stopped responding to motor vehicle thefts, burglar alarms and non-injury motor vehicle accidents in order to make do with their pared-back police force.
As a whole, agencies are reporting that they are decreasing the number of investigations of property crimes, fugitive tracking, a variety of white-collar crimes and low-level narcotics cases.
The report also shows that agencies are cutting back on investments in technology and communications equipment, as well as training for officers.
"As police departments across the nation face budget cuts, and are therefore limited in resources and staffing levels, community policing strategies are essential to maintaining effective public safety services within this changing economy," COPS Office Director Bernard K. Melekian wrote in a letter accompanying the report. "The Department of Justice is determined to help build the framework necessary to enable our law enforcement partners to make the most of these limited resources and to promote promising and effective public safety efforts."
As Congress looks to rein in federal spending, the House of Representatives recently passed a spending bill that would eliminate the COPS Office and its police-hiring program in 2012. With the Senate proposing only $200 million in funds for hiring - a substantial decrease from recent years - it is unlikely that federal funding will provide a reprieve for struggling law enforcement agencies.
NLC has urged Congress to maintain funding for the COPS hiring grants and other COPS Office programs.