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Police Corps Gets Mugged : Oh so close--but somehow it still doesn’t emerge from Congress

The Police Corps was a great idea when it was first proposed in 1982, and every year thereafter; it was still a great idea last month, when politicians shot it down again.

Latest episode in the long-running saga: the Police Corps was approved in concept in the omnibus federal crime bill passed last week, but there were no funds in the $30.2-billion measure that were earmarked for it. In Washington, this means close, but no cigar.

This is truly sad. Politics tripped up this exciting and wholly reasonable idea for injecting 80,000 energetic young men and women into local police departments by offering them college scholarships in return for four years of service in local police departments.

In Washington these days, competition for funding is fierce because of the budget-cap system--and a bipartisan reluctance, especially in a congressional election year, to raise taxes. That strictly limits spending. The House-Senate conference committee had watered down the appropriation to a theoretical $100 million over five years. But even if that amount had been real money, it would have translated into perhaps 1,000 participants--too few good men and women to spread around the nation. California would probably have gotten a mere 50 or 60 participants for the entire state. When it comes up for funding next year, this worthy plan needs to be done right--meaning federal funds for 20,000 students in every college class and 80,000 participants at any given time.

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Of course, there is no guarantee that Congress will approve this needed program. Some members, most notably Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas), the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, simply can’t buy the idea of providing all this money for young kids to work as cops, in return for scholarships, when veteran cops are underpaid and underequipped. The latter point is fair enough, but the comparison is apples to oranges. The police corps idea would deal with one set of problems by invigorating police departments throughout the nation with young energy and talent. And that, among other things, is very much worth doing.


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