THE LAW ENFORCEMENT Assistance Administration, created in 1967 to aid state and local governments in combating crime, will go out of existence on April 15. The agency has dispensed $7.7 billion to law enforcement officials, court systems and researchers in an effort to make America's streets safe. Since it is obvious that this desirable goal has not been achieved, has all this money been wasted? Not at all.
Perhaps, as a former head of the agency ruefully remarked, the program was oversold from the beginning. LEAA funds represented only 4 percent of the money expended nationally for crime-fighting. It would be unfair to conclude that the agency failed just because, demonstrably, thieves and murderers still roam the streets. Law enforcement remains primarily a responsibility of local government.
In the early years, the LEAA emphasized hardware and spent its money to purchase equipment for police departments--armored cars, communications equipment, riot control apparatus. More recently, the agency concentrated on developing pilot programs. Their impact can be measured by the fact that the costs for 75 percent of the programs eligible for continuation have been taken over by state or local governments.
High on the list of the agency's achievements are programs to reorganize the criminal court systems in 41 states. It also trained about 7,000 court personnel a year. The LEAA was an early supporter of programs focused on family violence. Its anti-fencing STING projects netted almost $300 million in recovered stolen property. Seventy jurisdictions used the career criminal program, which emphasized quick prosecution of persons with previous felony convictions who are charged with serious violent crimes. Of 15,000 alleged dangerous criminals prosecuted, 93 percent were convicted, with the average sentence being 13 years.
A lightweight body armor, Kevlar, was developed with an LEAA grant of $2 million. The manufacturer estimates it has saved the lives of 400 policemen.
The decision to eliminate LEAA was made originally by the Carter administration, not by Reagan budget cutters. The states should pick up some of the programs and the Justice Department others. The setting of the sun on LEAA should not cloud the contributions the agency has made to the country's continuing battle on crime.