Durbin Questions COPS Office Director During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Oversight of the COPS Program

In line with Durbin’s mission to revitalize the Committee’s oversight role, today’s hearing is the first full Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the COPS program since its creation in 1994

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) Director Hugh T. Clements during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Oversight of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Grant Program.”  Today’s hearing, the first full Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the COPS Program since its creation in 1994, examined the COPS Program and its efforts to promote community-oriented policing practices at law enforcement agencies across the country.

Durbin began his questioning of Director Clements by asking him how he interpreted the impact of the COPS Program during his time as a police officer and police chief.

“When I dial 911, if God forbid I’m in that position, I pray to God that the person who responds has been carefully recruited, carefully trained, and is ready to come to the aid of my family as quickly as possible.  I’m counting on that.  I think every American is counting on that no matter where they live.  So the question obviously is, does the COPS Program make that likelihood better or not?... You have been a real cop, starting [with] patrolling the beat and working your way up the department.  Did you see a measurable impact of federal COPS funds on your performance in your police department?” Durbin asked.

Director Clements replied that the COPS Program funding has made a difference in his former department, noting that the COPS Office supported his department in building community partnerships as well as in securing training and technical assistance.

Durbin then asked Director Clements to describe what the COPS Program has done to address pervasive patterns of racism and discrimination in policing practices, which have historically harmed the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement.

“There's no question that the United States still struggles with the issue of race.  It still struggles with the issue of immigrants, and how they are to be treated by our agencies and government, and certainly how they are treated on the streets and neighborhoods of this country on a regular basis.  We have seen some outrageous examples.  George Floyd comes to mind immediately.  And we have heard rhetoric from some political figures who are branding immigrants as not even humans but calling them animals.  That sort of rhetoric and that sort of conduct really puts special pressure on the police.  Can you tell me if the COPS Program addresses this in any way?” Durbin asked.

In response, Director Clements pointed to the COPS Hiring Program (CHP).  He explained that CHP prioritizes agencies and law enforcement executives who have an implementation plan that incorporates community members in an effort to establish trust between residents and officers.

Durbin then spoke about his visits to a police training academy in Chicago.  During those visits, Durbin met with members of the Chicago Police Department, who expressed concern that videos of police interactions are often clipped or removed from a broader context before being shared online. 

“On four or five different occasions, I have put up a notice at the police training academy in Chicago that I’m going to be sitting in a classroom for an hour and invite any member of the police force from that community who wants to come in for an off-the-record, no-holds-barred conversation to come on down.  And they show up… They want to tell their side of the story.  They want me to understand what it means to wear that shield and risk your life on the streets on a daily basis and how you have to make momentary – just a few seconds of judgment could be life or death - judgement for yourself, for innocent people around you, or the victim.  And how tough that is and how they sometimes think it's unfair that there are clips taken from videos that don’t tell whole story,” Durbin said.

“Do you deal with that? Have you dealt with that in your capacity as chief and with the COPS Program?” Durbin asked Director Clements.

Director Clements affirmed that police officers struggle with this aspect of their profession.  Director Clements explained that officers often arrive on a scene with little information about the situation, unsure of whether they will need to operate a rescue mission or respond tactically to a threat.  He concluded his response that the COPS Program has made training more accessible for departments in order to support officers in responding to calls appropriately.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

In 1994, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, authorizing $8.8 billion in new spending over six years to create the COPS Program.  Since the creation of the COPS Program nearly thirty years ago, Congress has appropriated more than $20 billion for grants awarded through the program.

The mission of the COPS office is to advance public safety through community policing, focusing on collaborative efforts to prevent and respond to crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.  Starting in 1998, an increased portion of the congressional funding for COPS has been dedicated to programs to help law enforcement agencies purchase new equipment, combat methamphetamine production, upgrade criminal history record systems, and improve their forensic science capabilities.

The COPS office works to support state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement through grants, training, and technical assistance.  Although the largest COPS grant remains the COPS Hiring Program, significant grant funding, at least $83 million per year, is now provided for anti-drug initiatives, de-escalation training, school violence prevention, preparing for active shooter situations, and law enforcement mental health and wellness programs.  The COPS Program also provides micro-grants for community policing development activities, such as promoting access to crisis intervention teams, supporting and expanding law enforcement accreditation, meeting the needs of underserved populations, and building trust and legitimacy with the community.