With just a year to go on President Clinton's six-year pledge to put an additional 100,000 police officers on America's streets, $5 billion in federal grants has been awarded but only 50,139 officers have been hired and put on the beat, according to a recent audit by the inspector general of the Justice Department.
The audit concluded that 78 percent of the police departments participating in one of the major grant programs could not show that they had redeployed officers into the community policing programs the Clinton administration supports. The police officer initiative was enacted by Congress in 1994 as part of the big crime bill passed that year and authorized spending of $8.8 billion to meet the goal of 100,000 new officers. Under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, most grants last for three years and local jurisdictions are supposed to pick up the costs after that.
The inspector general found that 68 percent of the departments audited did not have programs in place to retain officers after their federal money ran out.
"If COPS positions are not retained beyond the conclusion of the grant, then COPS will have been a short-lived phenomena, rather than helping to launch a lasting change in policing," the audit stated.
The COPS office at Justice responded that it had already changed its policy to require retention programs. Although grant recipients have not been required to track the redeployment of officers to community policy programs, COPS said it "does not believe that widespread non-redeployment is in fact occurring."
As to the bottom-line number that President Clinton touted during his 1996 reelection campaign, the inspector general's audit stated, "the exact nature of the goal has become confused."
The president had promised to put 100,000 new officers on the street. Meanwhile, the audit cited "recent statements made to us by COPS officials who state that the goal is to fund 100,000 new officers." By that standard, grants have funded the hiring or redeployment of 92,000 officers, which brings the goal much closer, even if there are fewer real cops on real streets.
The Justice Department finally declared a truce in a public integrity case that had turned politics on its ear in Houston. On July 30, 1997, an indictment was returned against two members of the city council, two former council members and two lobbyists in a bribery conspiracy case. The defendants had been snared in an FBI undercover operation in which a $50,000 bribe was solicited from a fictional company to ensure favorable treatment in a major city contract.
The first trial ended in a hung jury and a mistrial a year ago, and the case against one of the defendants was dismissed. Two of the most prominent defendants, Ben T. Reyes, a former city councilman and one of the most prominent Latino politicians in Texas, and Elizabeth Maldonado, a former port commissioner and lobbyist, were tried and convicted last December. A second trial of the remaining three defendants ended in another hung jury on May 12, and last week, the department announced that it was not taking another shot.
There's more to prosecuting and defending than, well, prosecuting and defending, Attorney General Janet Reno told the future lawyers at the Tulane Law School commencement on May 21. Here's some of what she said:
"One of the things I think is important is in developing skills that lawyers generally don't have . . .
"Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
"When we deal with an angry young man who's been arrested for possession of drugs, the prosecutor too often thinks that she has won a victory when she gets that person convicted, only to ignore the fact that there are not enough prison cells to house the person for the length of time that the judge is sentencing them and there are not enough treatment programs to do something about the problem that got the person into the jail in the first place.
"The public defender . . . on the other hand, thinks he won the case when he gets his client off on a motion to dismiss, ignoring the fact that he has done nothing to get him treatment to check the crack addiction that is a worse prison than the prison he might otherwise go to.
"Why not solve the problem? Why not bring peace? The prosecutor and the public defender who come together in the future as problem-solvers to figure out what we do together to get that person off of the addiction and into recovery and into a secure job and into the future are going to be the leaders of the next century."