Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 Analysis of Evolution essay

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Evolution of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

Most Americans regard the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 as the most comprehensive and far-reaching anti-crime bill in the country's history. The Act, which took up more than 1000 pages and an approximate $30 billion in costs, covered an overwhelming array of areas ranging from funding for late-night youth basketball programs to a ban on assault weapons. The bill received credit for the drastic drop in crime levels in the last quarter of the 1990s but was still viewed, by critics, as an unmatched boondoggle. Two decades later, the nation still feels the effect of the Violent Crime Control Act.

The Community Policing and the '100,000 Cops' Initiative

As has already been mentioned, the bill had substantial coverage and incorporated a variety of law-enforcement, crime-prevention and prison-upgrade elements (the Legal Dictionary, 2014). This text dwells particularly on the policy of grassroots/community policing, and the "100, 000 Cops" initiative, to which the bill allotted a substantial $8.8 billion in funds (Marion & Oliver, 2012, the Legal Dictionary, 2014). Using the aforementioned initiative as a case study, this text demonstrates the relevance of the process of public policy, which involves "problem identification, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy implementation, and policy evaluation," to the criminal justice system (Marion & Oliver, 2012 p. 432).

Clinton, in the words of Marion and Oliver (2012) promised to deploy "an additional 100,000 police officers to America's streets" in an initiative that sought to convince the American voter that, just like the Republicans, the Democrats could also be tough on the issue of crime (Marion & Oliver, 2012). Through the '100,000 cops' initiative, Clinton was able to not only shift the crime debate, but to also provide "the media and the public a clear message that cut through the complexities of federal crime policy" (Marion & Oliver, 2012, p. 436).

Problem Identification

The rate of violent crime in the U.S. was so high in the early years of the 1990s that the public had begun viewing crime as the most serious civic concern (Marion & Oliver, 2012). This was despite the passage of influential omnibus anti-crime bills by congress between 1984 and 1990 (The Legal Dictionary, 2014). Liberals and conservatives differed "on the best way to address the problem of criminal violence" (the Legal Dictionary, 2014, Para 2). Whereas liberals favored seeing more funds channeled towards crime-preventing social programs and the achievement of fairness in the justice system, conservatives put more emphasis on punishment, and wanted to see more funds directed towards prison building, the implementation of Three Strikes laws, and the withdrawal of the Habeas Corpus right from inmates on the death row (the Legal Dictionary, 2014).

It was evident that the methods of technology application, rapid response, and random patrols were doing little to prevent crime, giving rise to the question of 'what would effectively prevent crime' (Marion & Oliver, 2012). The broken windows theory by James Wilson and George Kelling brought forth the concept of community policing. 'Broken windows' in this context refers to the unfixed cues that send signals of neglect, on the part of law enforcers, to criminals (Marion & Oliver, 2012). The theory posits that an environment characterized by broken windows attracts minor crimes, and breed them to becoming more serious. The solution, therefore, lies in fixing the minor crimes. This can only be achieved if the police work hand in hand with the community to determine "who belongs to a neighborhood and who does not" (Marion & Oliver, 2012).

Policing practices began to shift from the traditional eschewing of citizen input to its appreciation through the formation and use of community-police partnerships, in the pursuit of solutions for mutually-identified concerns (Marion & Oliver, 2012). The type of grassroots policing used included strategic, neighborhood, weed-and-seed, and problem-oriented (Marion & Oliver, 2012).

Agenda Setting

With his presidential campaign prior to the 1992 general elections, Bill Clinton set the agenda for the fight against crime (The Legal Dictionary, 2014). He incorporated elements from both sides of the divide to produce a strong stance on criminal activities (Marion & Oliver, 2012). Clinton's presidential campaign favored community policing, a liberal component, while still stressing the need to get tough on criminal offenders and enforce the law by employing 100,000 additional cops (conservative) (Marion & Oliver, 2012).

However, once Clinton was in office, he shifted focus from crime, and began addressing other civic concerns (Marion & Oliver, 2012). The first 100 days of Clinton's presidency were largely quiet; congress neither drafted, nor was it pressured into formulating any anti-crime policies during this period (Carter, 2006). Clinton only raised the issue when it became apparent that congress was on course to pursue a crime bill, and only then did he present a speech that reinforced his campaign platforms (Carter, 2006).

To this end, Clinton set the agenda twice; first, during his campaign when he raised the level of public awareness regarding crime, and secondly, while in office, when he shifted focus to crime, getting the media to cover crime more and making the public more aware of crime policy (Carter, 2006). Congress, by prompting Clinton to actualize the 100,000 cops and community policing initiatives he had promised the electorate during the campaigns, played a crucial role in agenda-setting (Carter, 2006).

Policy Formulation

The White House contributed little at the drafting stage, with Senator Joe Biden and Representative Jack Brooks playing the crucial roles of drafting the bill and then introducing it to Congress and the House of representatives respectively (DOJ, 1999). Clinton remained passive and, save for his weekly addresses on radio, failed to encourage congress to pass the bill speedily; a factor that led to sluggishness -- with the bill only being pushed around between mark-ups and committees (Carter, 2006).

The bill incorporated polices from both sides of the divide. The most significant republican policies captured in the bill were; i) funding for expansion of prison facilities both at the federal and state levels, ii) increased scope of crimes punishable by the death penalty, iii) the implementation of the Three Strikes law, and greater law-enforcement (DOJ, 1999). The democratic-affiliated policies were; i) assault-weapon ban, ii) inmate drug treatment programs, and iii) late-night youth basketball crime-prevention programs (DOJ, 1999).

The bill underwent substantial compromise, but was finally passed by congress on the 21st of August, 1994, with "235 voting in favor, 195 voting against, and 5 abstaining" (Marion & Oliver, 2012, p. 448). President Clinton assented to the bill on the 13th of September, 1994 (Marion & Oliver, 2012).

Policy Implementation

The Violent Crime Act's adoption paved way for establishment of the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services), an office mandated to oversee the transition to grassroots policing at the state level (Marion & Oliver, 2012). Part of its role was to allocate the $8.8 billion identified for community policing and the '100,000 cops' initiative by congress (Marion & Oliver, 2012). Because of his knowledge of community policing affairs, John Brann from California, Hayward to be precise, was named director of COPS (Marion & Oliver, 2012).

COPS distributed a number of grants to police departments at the local and state level, using which they were to hire and offer training to new police officers (Marion & Oliver, 2012). The grants distributed included training grants, special program grants, technology grants, and hiring grants (Marion & Oliver, 2012). The specific ones included; the Troops to Cops, COPS More grants, UHP grants, Anti-gang Initiative grants, COPS Ahead, and COPS Phase 1 grants (Marion & Oliver, 2012).

Of significance here is Congress' failure to specify i) the manner through which the massive $8.8 billion allocated to the '100,000 Cops' initiative ought to have been distributed, and ii) to whom the funds ought to have been distributed (Justice Policy Institute, 2012). This placed the office of COPS to an awkward position - having to make the policy implementation decisions itself (Justice Policy Institute, 2012).

Policy Evaluation

The Violent Criminal Control Act was centered upon hiring an additional 100,000 police officers and offering them training, while equipping the entire police force with infrastructure that would ensure the smooth operation of community policing (Marion & Oliver, 2012). In order for these goals to be realized, finances, in the form of grants, had to be not only administered, but also properly-monitored by the office of COPS. To this end, it would be logical to evaluate the Violent Criminal Control Act on the bases of i) grant allocation, and ii) grant monitoring.

Grant Allocation: the office of COPS made a number of changes that reduced bureaucracy, making the process of grant application easier and that of disbursement faster (Justice Policy Institute, 2012). On this basis, therefore, the law can be termed successful.

Grant Monitoring: the law was highly unsuccessful with regard to grant monitoring (Justice Policy Institute, 2012). Two possible factors could have contributed to this; i) inadequate personnel at the office of COPS, and ii) placing too much emphasis on the…[continue]

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