When a program works, kill it
By MATTHEW PATE
It’s very easy to identify governmental waste. So many fluffy programs, dubious research grants and bureaucratic quagmires lead us to believe everything in government is broken — and expensive. One might make a compelling argument that this is often the case, maybe even the rule. There is, however, one wonderful exception to all the aforementioned frivolous and faulty financing. Ironically, the program has just been killed.
The program in question is the Center for Problem Oriented Policing or POP Center. It is under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office, which is a unit of the Department of Justice. For the latest budget cycle, they asked for just $320,000 in operating funds — the lowest amount ever. Over the 12-year life of the program, total expenditures were approximately $4.6 million.
The POP Center is unique among grant recipients of federal funds; it does not charge any overhead or indirect costs. Oh, one more thing — it has no full-time staff. Given what the taxpayers get in return, this is an exceptional bargain. Moreover, I argue that if every program ran as well as the POP Center, nobody would complain about the government.
The POP Center is a clearinghouse of expert advice for law enforcement, social services, charities, local governments and other non-governmental organizations. In short, if you’re a police administrator in a town besieged by some problem (i.e. drug dealing, burglaries, public drunkenness …) the POP Center has a library of absolutely free resources you can download (or request in print) to help you address your issue.
The guides that the POP Center publishes represent the state-of-the-art in comprehensive approaches to public safety problems. They are written by a field of experts, encompassing academics, practitioners, researchers and others who understand the problem at hand. They are written for practitioners to use. They are clear, plain language and easy to digest. They tell you what works and what doesn’t.
You don’t have to believe me though. The tremendous popularity of this invaluable resource is evident by its use. Their website averages approximately 138,000 page views per month and 55,000 visits. In addition, over 80,000 files per month (nearly 1 million per year) are downloaded from the website. Beyond this they have distributed over 1 million printed copies of their POP Guides.
Beyond all this, the agency (the COPS office) that just killed the POP Center, seems to have forgotten that the POP Center’s deliverables account for a sizable majority of the publications distributed by COPS itself. This, beyond all other facets of the situation, makes the COPS decision to end the POP Center mind-boggling.
Unless you act to stop it, the POP Center, its website and 12 years’ worth of work die on Dec. 31. You cannot allow this to happen because too many communities all over the country depend upon the POP Center to fill in the gaps. Their work is one of the rare instances when government works like we all wish it would.
As such, I ask that you do one simple thing: Send an email to the director of the COPS Office, Bernard Melekian (Bernard.Melekian@usdoj.gov) or contact the COPS Office Response Center at (800) 421-6770 telling them to save the POP Center. In addition to that, you should call your representatives in Congress and in the U. S. Senate.
The instances where government works like it should are all too rare. We cannot sit idly by and watch bureaucratic shortsightedness kill a model program — on which so many state and local actors depend. Let your voice be heard.
Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who has advised police agencies around the country.
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