Obama and his underlings have emphasized, rightly, that federal spending designed to pump up the economy should do more than that: spending should rebuild needed infrastructure, invest in cleaner energy, and the like, so that money spent now would yield economic returns years later.
There is one kind of spending that would do just that: federal aid for local police. The number of urban police officers per unit population held steady through the 1970s and 1980s, while urban violence steadily rose. In the 1990s, that number rose 17%, and violent crime fell sharply. In this decade, nearly half of the gains of the 1990s have been wiped out during this decade--and that was true before the collapse of the credit markets this past fall and the broader recession that is now taking hold. Urban violence is rising again. If the federal government doesn't subsidize police spending, we will see more cuts in local police budgets, and probably more crime.
Police spending has another large benefit: over time, it reduces prison spending. Take a look at this graph--the blue curve is annual change in the number of urban police officers per unit population with a one-year delay; the green curve measures annual change in the number of prison inmates per unit population. The inverse relationship between the two curves is hard to miss:
Less crime, fewer prisoners, and more cops is a rare policy trifecta. This is an opportunity not to be missed.