The Police Corps: Not your ordinary federal program

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted March 26, 2001

One of my mentors, the late Senator Carl T. Curtis of Nebraska, used to say, "My opponents always accuse me of voting against everything. I only wish I had. Everything I ever voted for has turned out wrong."

Curtis had a point. What he said was certainly true of most federal programs. Once in awhile a program has turned out well. Lord knows I do enough criticizing. For a change I want to point to a program that actually works. I will set aside the constitutional question of whether the federal government should be involved in such things for the moment. I want to examine a tiny little program called the Police Corps. It is technically a federal program but it is run completely by the states. It is like the ROTC for police, only each state runs its program differently. The program is the brainchild of one Adam Walinsky.

Three and a half decades ago Walinsky was a young aide working for Bobby Kennedy. A lot has changed since then, including Walinsky's party, his perspectives on politics and some of his allies. But his idealism about helping urban America has never changed.

Walinsky believed that police forces would be better served if they had a better-trained and educated cop walking the beat. So the deal is this: The program offers scholarships to young men and women in return for their making a minimum of a four year commitment to serve an urban police department as a beat cop. Following graduation from a college or university, a Police Corps recruit spends six months of intense training at a state run academy. It turns out that rather than just teaching skills, the Police Corps Academies end up teaching mostly character.

Walinsky explained that it was very different years ago when military service was all but mandatory and most everyone who entered police work had been in the military first. So many of the skills necessary to get along in a police organization were first taught by the military and the military helped the young recruit develop character, which translated well later as he entered police work. Now almost none of the police recruits have served in the military and many lack the background and character that make them ideal for police leadership.

The Police Corp training is turning out to be so valuable that Police Chiefs all over America are telling the Corps that if they could, they would recruit only from the Corps. In a number of cases, new Police Corps recruits, such as in Baltimore, are becoming the backbone of the training program of the Police Department there. The new Chief wants their skills passed on to his whole department.

The Police Corps was one of the few good things to be passed in the Omnibus Crime Bill that was given approval in the waning days of the 103rd Congress. Appropriations for the project were not available until 1996 so the program has only been operating for a very short time. It has only a few more than 400 graduates. Only 31 states have agreed to run the program but last year only in nine were actual academies run. A typical Police Academy class will run about 25 recruits. And while there have been male and female, black and white and Asian and Caucasian recruits, there has been no Affirmative Action. Everyone who has been a part of the program has belonged there on merit.

The program may have been conceptualized by an apostle of Bobby Kennedy but it took Bob Dornan and Trent Lott, among others, to get it through the Congress. The Bush Administration and The Congress are looking at lots of places to try to achieve their budget priorities. In fact, the Justice Department, where the Police Corps resides, was given a rather substantial quota of budget cutting to meet. Since Attorney General John Ashcroft doesn't yet have anyone on board who can do that work, the effort was left to bureaucrats. Likewise OMB Director Mitch Daniels has no deputy appointed yet for this area. The result has been that funding for the Police Corps, one of the few programs that is actually working, has received a lethal blow. And at the same time, some of the least desirable programs, programs that do real harm, have been slated for increases.

It is such an infinitesimal part of the budget there is still time to get this turned around. Given what President George W. Bush preaches, this program seems tailor-made for his brand of compassionate conservatism. It is compassionate in that it is developing what the Reader's Digest called "A New Breed of Cop," better trained and able to handle today's problems that stem from the break-up of the family. But it is conservative in that it is pro-law enforcement, is very economical to operate and is run by the states rather than by a "one size fits all" federal bureaucratic structure.

I hope President Bush and Mitch Daniels take time to learn about this program. They will love it. And even Carl T. Curtis, were he alive and in the Senate today, would be voting in favor of it - on my recommendation.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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