Following a series of meetings, conversations, and discussions between Vice President Joseph R. Biden and IACP President Michael J. Carroll, Vice President Biden agreed to provide Police Chief magazine with his views on some of the critical questions currently confronting law enforcement executives. IACP’s questions and the Vice President’s responses follow.
|Left to right: Joseph R. Biden Jr., Vice President of the United States; and|
Michael J. Carroll, IACP president, chief of police, West Goshen Township
Police Department, Pennsylvania. Photograph taken during a meeting in
the Vice President’s office January 5, 2010.
Photograph by Michael Fergus, IACP staff.
What do you view as the most significant challenge facing American law enforcement, and what is the administration doing to address it?
I know what kind of budget constraints you're facing out there and that worries me, frankly. I think that’s probably your number one challenge, and I’ll tell you why. State budgets have been hard hit by the downturn, and law enforcement agencies have had to make some tough decisions. Decisions that you guys shouldn’t have to make. But, you’ve done a great job with the cards that you were dealt. You’ve adjusted, and I’m proud of the work that you’ve done out there—even without all of the resources.
I understand that when a chief has to cut his or her department’s budget, it’s going to have a significant impact. That’s why this administration has made restoring the hiring program at the COPS Office1 a priority in order to help departments bring back officers that were laid off, avoid layoffs, and hire more cops. We awarded $1 billion as a part of the Recovery Act2 to hire 4,699 officers in 1,046 police departments.3 Through the Recovery Act, we awarded a total of $2,466,733,273 dollars through the JAG program4 and $154,653,648 in Byrne grants.5 But, there’s still a lot of demand out there and lots more to be done.
We’re not stopping with the Recovery Act. Our goal is to put another 50,000 cops on the street. You guys have seen years of neglect. But you have my word that we are going to turn this around. I’m committed to restoring the partnership between the federal government and state and local law enforcement.
How do you define community policing and is this still a critical piece of the COPS program?
I see it this way—community policing moves officers from a reactive to more of a proactive role. Community police officers should be trying to address the root causes of criminal and disorderly behavior, rather than simply responding to crimes once they have been committed. They forge relationships between law enforcement and the community.
In addition to hiring officers, the COPS Office has been serving as a clearinghouse for evidence-based practices for community policing. We know that this model works, and that’s part of the reason that we chose Chief Bernard (Barney) Melekian to lead the COPS Office. He did a great job in Pasadena, California. And he managed to decrease violent crime while adopting the community-policing model. He’ll be a great asset to the COPS Office and to community-policing efforts in general.
You started the COPS program in 1995. Since then, 122,979 cops have been hired or retained through federal funding. What do you see as the greatest accomplishment of the COPS office—aside from the pure numbers of new cops on the street?
The number of officers on the street is quite an accomplishment in and of itself—and I don’t think it is a coincidence that crime rates have decreased. We have plenty of evidence that this works. There was a 2006 study by economists at Yale and Georgetown Universities, a 2005 study from the University of Maryland, a 2005 GAO Report, and another Yale Study in 2004. There was also a Brookings study which indicated that the COPS program was the single most cost-effective law enforcement program out there. All those people concluded that the COPS program is effective and has led to reductions in crime at the local level. They say that the declines in crimes attributable to COPS spending accounted for 10 percent of the total drop in crime from 1993 to 1998. I’m also proud of the community-policing efforts that are being undertaken across the country as a result of the COPS program.
What do you see as the federal government’s role in local law enforcement?
We need to give you the tools that you need to do your job—plain and simple. Whether it’s more cops on the beat, bulletproof vests, high-tech equipment, or the retention of officers. If you don’t have what you need, then everyone loses. It concerns me that some people in federal government don’t get why it’s important that we play a role in helping local law enforcement. But to me, there’s nothing more important to me than helping you. And complete cooperation between federal and local law enforcement is essential.
During the election last year, the President told IACP members that he supported the Association’s proposal to create a national crime commission. Does the Administration support similar efforts by Senator Webb?
I’ve got to hand it to Senator Webb for trying a new approach.6 The prison populations are exploding and recidivism rates are through the roof. This is a real public safety issue we’re dealing with, and identifying helpful solutions would be a great start. But, what we don’t want are more unfunded mandates. And people need to recognize that crime rates are down because you guys have been out there day in and day out. This needs to just be about finding ways to make things better.
Public forensic laboratories have continuously struggled to hire sufficient numbers of forensic scientists and technicians, as well as purchasing updated analytical equipment to meet the increasing demands of state, local, and tribal law enforcement. How do you see the federal government assisting these forensic centers in handling evidence demands and backlogs?
I’m especially concerned about rapekit backlogs. In 2004, I led the passage of the Debbie Smith Act7 to help address the problem of backlogs in rape kits and other forensic evidence. This Act sends funding to state and local crime labs and helped get the ball rolling. I am working now with the Department of Justice to make sure that we are targeting these funds to help reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, solve more crimes, and identify serial rapists. This is more than a question of resources—it also takes motivation for jurisdictions to take rape seriously and establish policies around the testing of rape kits. I will be working with Congress, the Attorney General, and law enforcement groups to make that happen. ■
1Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., Web site www.cops.usdoj.gov.
2American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Public Law 111-5, 111th Cong., 1st sess., February 17, 2009 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ5/content-detail.html (accessed January 13, 2010).
3More information can be found at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Web site under “Cops Hiring Recovery Program Announcement Toolkit,” http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/Default.asp?Item=2208 (accessed January 13, 2010).
4“Recovery Act: Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program: Allocations and Disparate Information,” Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/recoveryJAG/recoveryallocations.html (accessed January 13, 2010).
5“Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program,” Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/recoveryJAG/recoveryjag.html (accessed January 13, 2010).
6National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, S 714, 111th Cong., 1st sess., introduced on March 26, 2009, by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s714/show (accessed January 13, 2010) and approved by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary January 21, 2010.
7DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2003, S 153, 108th Cong., 1st sess., http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s108-152 (accessed January 13, 2010).
Vice President Joe Biden is the 47th Vice President of the United States. Prior to being sworn in as the Vice President in January 2009, Biden served as a U.S. Senator from Delaware for 36 years. As senator, Biden served as Chair or Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 17 years, widely recognized for his work on criminal justice issues including the 1994 Crime Bill and the Violence Against Women Act.
For more information about Vice President Joe Biden, visit the White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov/administration/vice-president-biden.