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Could federal grant money improve community policing?

More than $119 million in federal grant money will aim to expand police forces and support community initiatives. But will it be enough to make a difference?

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    Attorney General Loretta Lynch responds to a question during a news conference on Sept. 22 at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. Ms. Lynch is announcing Justice Department grants Monday to help police departments across the country hire new officers.
    Andrew Harnik/AP/File
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US Attorney General Loretta Lynch kicked off National Community Policing Week in Dallas on Monday, announcing more than $119 million in federal grant funding for local law enforcement around the country.

The money, which will enable 184 agencies to add or keep more than 900 police positions, aims to mend and fortify the public's trust in their local officers via community policing initiatives, which have found widespread support amid recent violence and subsequent protests.

"The recent events we've seen, particularly this summer, have raised the visibility of this issue beyond just the communities that have traditionally felt impacted by it," Ms. Lynch told The Associated Press, emphasizing the need for strong collaborative relationships between police and the communities they serve.

In July, a sniper killed five officers and injured seven others in Dallas as they guarded peaceful demonstrators protesting police killings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. The city's police force, which is set to receive $3.1 million to hire 25 new officers through the grants, had already been plagued by low morale and low pay before the shooting, as The Christian Science Monitor's Harry Bruinius reported.

Given the tendency of Texas leaders to seek tax cuts, the department's funding problems are wrapped up in larger problems that contribute to the black community's tension with police, some analysts say. 

"When you see the protests that we've been seeing, they're not related solely to the police," Terry Flowers, executive director and headmaster of St. Philip's School and Community Center in South Dallas, told the Monitor in July. "It's also a response to people feeling that there is a kind of socially engineered inequity and inequality, whether it's trash pickup, repairing broken lights and things like that. When all of those things go neglected, it just happens that the incidents with the police get more attention, but it's really reflective of a lot of smaller conditions and areas of continued neglect."

The grants, which are provided by the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), aim to overcome local funding obstacles. But that model has its opponents.

David Muhlhausen and Erica Little, analysts with conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, contend that the COPS grants – which have disbursed more than $14 billion since 1995 to further community policing by at least 13,000 state, local, and tribal agencies – are ineffective in the fight against crime, and problematic in light of the American federal system.

"Grants that subsidize the routine activities of local law enforcement assign to the federal government functions that fall within the expertise, jurisdiction, and constitutional responsibilities of state and local governments," they wrote, noting that past grants have been "fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse."

As an example of local over-reliance on federal funding, Dr. Muhlhausen and Ms. Little pointed to Boston, which accepted millions in grant funding to hire additional officers during the 1990s, only to slash the number of positions by nearly 10 percent when federal funding dried up in the early 2000s.

Still, President Obama said his administration aims to bolster the efforts of local police.

"The underlying tensions that sometimes exist between law enforcement officers and communities span decades and reflect a breadth of social and cultural challenges, including racial and socioeconomic disparities," Mr. Obama said in designating the week's theme. "Through meaningful efforts to strengthen community policing, we can meet these challenges, improve these vital relationships, and make real and lasting progress."

Lynch's visit to Dallas was an extension of a tour she began last year, after The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing published its final report.

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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