Federal money talks — kind of

Nancy Marshall-Genzer May 18, 2015
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Federal money talks — kind of

Nancy Marshall-Genzer May 18, 2015
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Now that the president’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has proposed its recommendations, the White House is offering grants to encourage local police departments to adopt some suggestions, like having officers wear body cameras and using a new federal tool kit to train them. 

The grants make the medicine go down a bit more smoothly, but the White House’s reach is limited. 

“On a day-to-day basis, the president of the United States does not control the way police officers interact with citizens,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, says local authorities were already buying cameras, and local police will make the key decisions about how to use them, such as “who’ll be wearing them, and for how long, and under what circumstances they go on and off.” 

This isn’t the first time President Obama has dangled money in front of local officials to try to bend them to his will.

“I think it works,” says Robert Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University, pointing to funding for states to expand Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act. “They’ll take the money,” he says. “And I think a good case in point is what we’ve seen on Medicaid.”

President Obama also tried to get states to change the way they educate children with his Race to the Top grants. He’s hardly the first president to try buying a little local control. President Nixon handed out grants encouraging local police to get tough on crime. 

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