Director’s Column:  October 2011

As you know on September 8, President Obama announced his American Jobs Act plan at a joint session of Congress. I was extremely pleased that he included first responders in his plan, calling for $5 billion in support of hiring and retaining public safety and first responder personnel, including $4 billion for the COPS Hiring Program. This comes at a critical time for the law enforcement profession as the economy has had a significant impact on many agencies across the country. 

How significant? I recently asked my staff to help me better answer that question. For the last 3 years, the COPS Office has collected data from its Hiring Program applicants on the state of agency operating budgets, officer and civilian layoffs, furloughs, hiring freezes, service populations, and authorized and actual sworn force strengths. With thousands of applicants each year, this data set is now a sizeable sample of the approximately 18,000 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies in this country. The statisticians on my staff will offer caveats that it is not a random sample but rather a self-selected group of agencies who chose to apply for COPS Office funding, but we all agree that as a group, they provide a compelling picture of the affect the economy has had on the law enforcement profession in the last 3 years.

For example, we estimate that in the last 18 months approximately 6,000 officers have been laid off, and another 1,600 are facing a layoff by the end of this year. In speaking to the IACP, their estimate is 10,000 officers have lost their jobs in the last 2 years. Combined with an estimated 30,000 positions currently going unfilled through attrition, this has had a significant impact on the ratio of officers to population served. Looking just at agencies that applied for COPS funding in both 2009 and 2011, the average number of officers for every 100,000 people declined from 181 to 177 officers in just 2 years.

In addition to layoffs and hiring freezes, another method agencies use to manage labor costs is furloughs. The COPS Office asks applicants to report the percentage of their sworn positions that have been furloughed for at least 40 hours. Forty hours, or one work week, is a significant reduction in annual pay for the average officer, and anecdotally we know that many are furloughed for more than 40 hours a year. Our application data tells us that the percentage of agencies making use of long furloughs has more than doubled in the last 3 years, and that in the agencies using furloughs, the percentage of officers subject to furlough has increased from an average of 39 percent to 57 percent of the sworn staff. We estimate that more than 28,000 officers nationwide will be furloughed for at least 40 hours this year, which is equivalent to more than 500 full-time officer positions.

The cost of doing business rarely gets less expensive. Salaries and insurance costs typically increase annually as employees earn years of experience, and represent the majority of any agency’s costs. Vehicle fuel costs have also increased dramatically in recent years, putting additional pressure on agency operating budgets. These budgets, frequently the last service for which a local government will make dramatic reductions, have remained basically stagnant and are losing purchasing power as they fail to keep up with the rate of inflation.

"... this year we will support another 1,015 officer positions in 238 agencies, for a total of 7,061 officer jobs created or saved since 2009."

Over the last 2 years, the COPS Office funded 6,046 officer positions across the country. Some of those grants were to prevent layoffs, others to rehire officers already laid off, and many to fill vacant positions that would otherwise go unfilled. We are proud to announce that this year we will support another 1,015 officer positions in 238 agencies, for a total of 7,061 officer jobs created or saved since 2009.

We look forward to the opportunity to continue our work to save officer jobs and create new jobs in the coming months and years. This is an extremely important part of the COPS program, although not its core mission. We should not lose sight of the fact that the COPS Hiring Program hires officers for a purpose, and that is to advance public safety through community policing by targeting specific community problems. We hope that the American Jobs Act funds the COPS Hiring Program so that the COPS Office can provide funding to get officers on the job, and help all agencies better solve the public safety problems in their communities.


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