Old, Failed Public-Safety Programs with a New Twist

by David Muhlhausen

Last night, President Obama offered his vision for turning America’s economy around, and it looks suspiciously like his old vision. He called on Congress to create a “Veterans Job Corps that will provide our communities funding to hire veterans as cops and firefighters.” While servicemen transitioning back to civilian life deserve our respect and admiration, President Obama is asking Congress to spend additional taxpayer dollars on old, failed programs with a new twist.

The new spending would likely be allocated to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Both of these grant programs offer federal subsidies for the salaries of local police officers and firefighters. Research by the Heritage Foundation has demonstrated that COPS was ineffective at reducing crime and that SAFER grants had no impact on reducing firefighter and civilian deaths and injuries. Fire departments that did not receive federal grants were just as successful at preventing fire casualties as grant-funded fire departments.

We’ve seen this part of the playbook before. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus bill, allocated hundreds of millions in new spending for COPS and SAFER grants. Unsatisfied, President Obama in September 2011 called for even more spending on COPS and SAFER grants to help stimulate the economy. Apparently giving up on the questionable notion that these grants stimulate economic activity, the president is now trying to justify additional spending as a way to help veterans find jobs.

Communities, especially those near military bases, can certainly benefit from recruiting veterans to serve as police officers and firefighters. The lure of hiring from such a talented and dedicated pool of potential employees should not be dependent on federal subsidies. State and local officials, not the federal government, are responsible for funding the staffing levels of police and fire departments.

— David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis in the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation.  

The Corner

The one and only.