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U.S. Police Corps Bill Finds Going Tough

One day last July, archconservative Orange County Rep. Robert K. Dornan stood on a Capitol dais shoulder to shoulder with Rep. Barney Frank, a leading congressional liberal, to promote one of the few issues on which they agree--creation of a national police corps.

The idea, developed by Adam Walinsky, a former aide to the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is to add as many as 25,000 college-educated officers each year to police forces across the country through a new federal program that would pay for their education.

During the 10 months since Dornan (R-Garden Grove), Frank (D-Mass.) and others introduced the Police Corps Act in the House of Representatives, the concept has been endorsed by scores of public officials and newspaper editorial writers.

But in recent weeks, the legislation has run into some unexpected snags.

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Responding to complaints from police unions, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) has introduced a separate bill to finance college educations for those already serving in law enforcement.

Several congressional staffers said that Graham’s Law Enforcement Scholarship Act, which would cost $30 million a year, could undermine support for the proposed police corps, which ultimately could cost up to $1.4 billion a year for scholarships and training.

In the meantime, Dornan’s police corps bill has been stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, while members await the outcome of contentious wrangling in the Senate over an omnibus crime bill that also includes police corps language.

“The status report is, we’re depending a lot on the Senate. It’s kind of dead over here (in the House) right now,” Dornan said Thursday.

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Modeled after the military’s Reserve Officer Training Corps, the police corps program would pay up to $10,000 a year in college expenses for applicants who serve as police officers for at least four years after they graduate from college.

To guarantee that police corps cadets keep their promise, the payments would be made only after they complete their police service. In the interim, educational expenses would be financed by deferred-payment student loans.

The most immediate problem for the proposal, said Paul Morrell, Dornan’s top aide, is a fight over an omnibus crime bill introduced by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

In addition to the police corps concept, the Biden bill includes controversial sections that have forced postponement of its consideration in the Senate, including a ban on certain semiautomatic assault weapons and a revision of habeas corpus law. Conservatives are drafting a competing crime bill that does not include the police corps proposal.

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Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who introduced the police corps bill in the Senate, plans to offer it as an amendment to any major crime bill that emerges from the chamber.

“It is our hope that the police corps is part of whatever bill is passed (in the Senate),” Morrell said.

But Graham’s bill may give Specter and Dornan some trouble, staff members said.

A Graham staffer, who asked not to be named, said Graham generally believes that his law enforcement scholarship measure complements rather than conflicts with the police corps legislation.

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The staff member noted, however, that some provisions of the police corps bill concern Graham, particularly the proposed establishment of federal police training centers. “It becomes a cost issue,” he said.

In addition, the staffer said Graham is concerned that police corps recruits do not begin to receive any compensation for the cost of their education until after they have completed their police training. “They’re going to have to hope that somewhere along the line they don’t become disqualified,” the staffer said.

Dornan said he would be inclined to support Graham’s bill, as long as it does not hurt the chances of enacting the police corps legislation. “We want to see how we can support that without killing this, without giving people the idea, ‘put Police Corps on ice for a decade,’ ” Dornan said.

Despite the complications, Walinsky said he believes that some form of police corps legislation will pass Congress this year.

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“My understanding is the current thinking in the Senate is to make it possible for there to be some sort of accommodation,” he said. “I’m advised by a lot of senators that they believe this bill is going to pass, and I believe them.”


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