Read My Testimony

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Over at reason, you can now read the testimony I gave on police militarization a few weeks ago before the House Crime Subcommittee.

The event wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the Internet gambling hearing (and by “entertaining,” I mean, there weren’t any laughably stupid questions from dim politicians).

One thing that did come up in the Q&A: A woman in the gallery asked for renewed funding for Bill Clinton’s COPs program, which provided federal grants for community policing. I’m a big fan of community policing, which aims to put cops on walking beats, ingrain them in the neighborhoods they’re patrolling, and generally foster a less confrontational, more civil relationship between the police and the people.

The problem is that community policing is really only effectively implemented at the local level. Like lots of other attempts at good policy that come from the federal government, COPs grants often ended up funding endeavors that were a far cry from what advocates intended.

The Madison Times, for example, found in 2000 that COPS grants in many Wisconsin jurisdictions ended up funding–you guessed it–SWAT teams. Which are sort of the opposite of community policing. In fact, when criminologist Peter Kraska interviewed several police chiefs in the Midwest for his large study of paramilitary police units, they told him that a SWAT team was a vital component of any good community policing program.

So the question at the hearing gave me the opportunity to point all of this out. Rep. Bobby Scott, the committee chair, seemed taken aback. He asked me, “Are you telling me that the COPs grants we handed out in the 90s were actually used to start SWAT teams?”

I confirmed that while I didn’t know of any large-scale studies, Kraska’s work and the Madison newspaper’s investigation seemed to confirm that this was indeed the case in at least several communities.

He replied, “Well that’s certainly not what we had in mind.” And the room filled with laughter.

It was kinda’ cool to be be in a position to give an influential congressmen a lesson in unintended consequences.

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