Since the establishment of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in late 1994, Alaska has received over $41 million in grant funds from the federal government for policing in communities throughout the state. Over half of this amount—approximately $22 million—was designated specifically for the hiring of new police officers or for freeing already-employed officers for direct policing work by hiring civilians for administrative positions that do not require sworn officers. According to figures released by COPS, the money has made possible the hiring of over 322 police officers throughout the state (full-time equivalent positions).
While the main thrust of the COPS effort has been to increase the number of sworn officers directly engaged in police work, not all of the funds were granted for hiring; some of the money has been earmarked for equipment and training. Many Alaska communities have received funds from several separate COPS grant programs over the last eight years. (Table 1 reflects the total that each agency has received from all programs combined.) The process for obtaining COPS funds has been grant-driven, with each police department or community body submitting its own applications for consideration. Although certain basic requirements have been in place for all grant recipients, individual agencies have been encouraged to develop their own strategies for the hiring and deployment of officers in accordance with the community policing emphasis on meeting local needs.
Of the total amount of COPS funds channeled to Alaska through summer 2002, the Anchorage Police Department has received close to $6.5 million; the Fairbanks Department of Public Safety, $7.2 million, and the Juneau Police Department, $.75 million. Over 90 communities or tribal entities in the state have received a total of over $25 million. These funds have come in grants of widely disparate amounts, ranging from close to $1.5million in Chickaloon and $1.2 million for the Asa'carsamiut Tribal Council, to $68,000 for the City of Napakiak and $29,000 to the Tribal Council of Huslia (Table 1).
History of COPS
The COPS office came into being as a result of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCA), which initially authorized $8.8 billion for hiring 100,000 community policing officers nationwide.
The monies have passed to individual police agencies through several different grant programs aimed at the goals of encouraging the development of community policing and increasing the number of officers engaged in policing work. These have included programs under which the funds are directly earmarked for hiring new officers as well as initiatives which have made funds available to hire civilians for administrative roles in order to release sworn officers for active community duty. Other programs provided funds for training, the purchase of equipment, and the placement of officers in schools and the formation of partnerships between police agencies and other community organizations. These too were designed to advance community-policing concepts. In addition, the Tribal Resources Grant Program (TRGP) designated funds particularly for Native American communities and police agencies.
In general, the COPS hiring programs have provided individual agencies with funds for additional officer positions for a period of three years. These positions were to be new; COPS funds have not been available to maintain already existing, locally funded positions. COPS has provided a percentage of the money required for each position and the agency has contributed matching funds and, as part of the grant requirements, agreed to retain the new officer position for a period of at least one full fiscal cycle beyond the expiration of grant funding. (Under certain conditions, communities with populations under 50,000 have received funding for positions for a fourth year; in addition, the requirements attached to funds from the Tribal Resources Grant Program are slightly different.)
Since COPS is a relatively new program and still evolving, a full picture of the long-term effects of its infusion of federal funds into local policing is not yet possible. How much the COPS effort has resulted in organizational commitment to community-policing and how the changes stimulated by COPS have affected levels of crime, police and community relations and community quality of life cannot yet be fully discerned.
The Urban Institute, under grants from the National Institute of Justice, has conducted some early examinations of the efficacy of the COPS initiative. One Urban Institute analysis released by NIJ in 2000, "National Evaluation of the COPS Program," provides an overview of the history and objectives of COPS, the flow of funds and the progress made by mid-1998 toward the articulated goals of the program. This report notes that after approximately four years the COPS program had made substantial progress toward its objective of placing 100,000 officers on the streets and seemed to have stimulated a national conversation about the nature of community policing. The study did not examine how COPS may have affected levels of crime or community satisfaction with police.
Another Urban Institute study "Hiring and Retention Issues in Police Agencies," released in late 2001, looks at determinants of police force strength and officer hiring and retention in relation to the COPS program. This study, which involved a telephone survey of over 1200 police agencies throughout the country, indicates that a majority of agencies receiving COPS funds expected to retain at least some of the officer positions created for at least five years beyond the expiration of the grants. This finding is based on an analysis of the available short-term data and on individual agency projections. The study notes that the projected retention rates are consistent with historical patterns of officer retention following periods of extensive staffing increases.
Over 90 Alaska police agencies, communities and tribal groups have received funds from COPS since 1994. These include most of the major cities and hubs as well as many rural villages. The numbers of officers hired over this eight-year period are presented in Table 1. The degree to which agencies have retained these positions beyond the end of the grant funding is not known. General statewide figures maintained by the Alaska Police Standards Council show that since 1994 the number of sworn officers has increased by 67 percent and since 1996, by 44 percent (Table 2). At the end of 1994 there were 714 active sworn officers in the state; at the end of 1996, 830, and in July 2002, there were 1192. It is clear that at least part of this steady increase in the number of active certified police officers is due to the infusion of COPS funds.
The numbers from the Police Standards Council include certified officers in incorporated communities, but not village public safety officers or correctional officers; nor do they include non-certified officers. Some of the COPS funds have gone to very small, unincorporated communities, which may have positions not certified by the Council.
To date, there have been no in-depth studies of the effects of the COPS programs in Alaska communities, although as part of the grant compliance requirements, individual agencies submit periodic reports to the COPS office in Washington. One of the questions in Alaska, as in the rest of the country, is to what extent communities have been able to retain these positions when the flow of federal grant monies has ended. Given the very limited tax base of many small communities, retention of officers could be expected to be problematic. In addition, while the influx of COPS money has undoubtedly changed policing throughout the state, as yet it is not clear in what ways the money has resulted in the adoption of community policing concepts and techniques, or, from a more basic perspective, resulted in less crime and social disorder in the state's communities.