Unconstitutional federal funding helps drive local policing priorities. The Operation Relentless Pursuit (ORP) initiative serves as a prime example.

Attorney General William Barr announced the program in December 2019. ORP is intended to take on violent crime in seven of “America’s most violent cities through a surge in federal resources.”

When Barr announced the program, he pledged “to intensify federal law enforcement resources” into Albuquerque, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, and Milwaukee. These seven cities have violent crime levels several times the national average. According to the press release, “The operation will involve increasing the number of federal law enforcement officers to the selected cities, as well as bulking up federal task forces through collaborative efforts with state and local law enforcement partners.”

Last month, the DOJ announced $51 million in federal grant money to hire 214 sworn law enforcement officers for state and local law enforcement task forces in the cities under the program. The grants money came through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), a federal welfare program that helps fund state and local police agencies with funds for officer hiring and retention. According to the agency website, “The COPS Office awards grants to hire community policing professionals, develop and test innovative policing strategies, and provide training and technical assistance to community members, local government leaders, and all levels of law enforcement. Since 1994, the COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to help advance community policing.

Under the guidelines for the ORP money, “The recipients of the funding will deploy existing veteran officers to task force duties and use the CHP funding to hire new recruits to backfill those positions, as practical.”

The Bureau of Justice Assistance will make an additional $10 million available to support ORP for hiring additional prosecutors, paying overtime expenses for task force members, funding multi-agency investigations, purchasing mobile data terminals and modern technological platforms, and for the development of strategic plans to address gaps in combating violent crime.

As with all federal funding, the money comes with strings attached that effectively incentivize local police in these cities to align their efforts with federal policing priorities. Officers assigned to the ORP will work in coordination with the U.S. Attorneys Office and “other relevant federal agencies” to investigate targets involved in “gang, drug trafficking and other violent crime-related issues.”

“The COPS Office expects that officers deployed to ORP task force operations as a result of CHP funding will spend all or most of their time performing task force–related activities.”

Despite branding this as a program to battle violent crime, it is really nothing but an extension of the unconstitutional war on drugs that helped bring us militarized police and elevated levels of violence to begin with. Prohibition creates black markets that always lead to violent means to protect them. Meanwhile, the federal government has dressed, armed and trained police officers like soldiers, turning “protect and serve” into “command and control.”

In effect, the ORP money will incentivize police departments in these cities to put their veteran officers on the front lines of the war on drugs and leave everyday policing in the community to rookies. Federal priorities will come first whether or not they are really those that would most benefit local residents or not.

This is another example of how the federal government is effectively turning local police into a national police force.

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