President Bush has once again proposed deep cuts for critical homeland security and law enforcement programs. While the President often speaks of his commitment to help state and local first responder and law enforcement agencies, his budget proposals for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security always tell a different story. Despite the overwhelming need to better support America’s frontline, the Administration’s fiscal year 2008 budget request proposes to cut funding for programs primarily designed to assist first responders and law enforcement officers by more than $3 billion.
America Needs a Budget that Prioritizes First Responders
Our nation’s first responders do not have the tools they need to effectively respond to terrorist attacks or natural disasters. While communications interoperability for first responders was advanced as a key recommendation of the bipartiS.Amdt.9/11 Commission, inadequate federal funding, as well as the President and Republican Congress’ decision to delay the handover of a dedicated radio frequency, has prevented sufficient progress in this area. According to a Department of Homeland Security communications interoperability scorecard released in January 2007, only 6 of 75 metropolitan areas in the United States received the highest rating for their emergency agencies’ abilities to respond during a crisis. And in a recent survey of 183 cities conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the majority of emergency officials reported that they have not received sufficient funds to provide police and firefighters the equipment they need to ensure interoperable communications, while eight in ten cities reported that their emergency responders are unable to communicate with each other or surrounding towns. (Department of Homeland Security, January 2007; The United States Conference of Mayors, 7/26/06)
Our states’ disaster response plans are insufficient. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Phase II Nationwide Plan Review, only 10 states have sufficient disaster response plans in place. The review also found that the public health infrastructure in most states does not have the training and basic equipment necessary to effectively respond to a terrorist attack or flu pandemic. (Department of Homeland Security, 6/16/06)
America Needs a Budget that Prioritizes State and Local Law Enforcement
The COPS and Byrne/JAG programs have reduced violent crime. The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program was created in 1994 as a part of the Crime Bill to combat a national crime crisis by revolutionizing state and local law enforcement, enabling policy officials to deploy new crime-fighting technologies, developing innovative policing methods, and hiring new officers. An overwhelming success, COPS placed nearly 118,000 officers on the street in more than 13,000 communities across the country. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that for every dollar spent on COPS hiring per resident, crime fell by almost 30 incidents per 100,000 residents. Between 1994 and 2001 due in part to COPS and earlier versions of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne/JAG), violent crime decreased by over 26 percent, and the murder rate dropped by 34 percent. (GAO, “Community Policing Grants: COPS Grants were a Modest Contributor to the Declines in Crime in the 1990s,” 10/05)
Instead of maintaining or increasing funding levels, President Bush and Congressional Republicans drastically reduced funding for successful state and local law enforcement programs. Since 2001, President Bush, with the help of Congressional Republicans, has cut funding for state and local law enforcement programs by more than fifty percent, including COPS and Byrne/JAG. In 1997 and 1998, approximately $1.2 billion dollars were spent each year by the federal government to hire new police officers under COPS. Roughly $900 million was spent on the predecessors to the Byrne/JAG program. After steady decreases over the last five years, funding for COPS hiring has fallen to zero, and the Byrne/JAG program has been cut by more than $400 million. Last year, the Administration proposed eliminating the program altogether.
Now, violent crime is on the rise. In 2005, the nation’s violent crime rate showed an alarming reversal byincreasing significantly for the first time in nearly 15 years. Between 2004 and 2005, the FBI reported a 2.3 percent increase in violent crime, which includes murder, robbery and aggravated assault. Broken out, the murder rate increased by 3.4 percent, robbery increased by 3.9 percent and aggravated assault increased by 1.8 percent. This is not an anomaly; early estimates for 2006 suggest an increasing crime trend. When compared to the first six months of 2005, violent crime increased by 3.7 percent in the first six months of 2006, with robberies increasing by 9.7 percent. While western states showed the greatest increase in violent crime at 4.7 percent, the mid west came in second with a 3.9 percent increase. Spreading beyond the very largest cities, the greatest increases in violent crime occurred in cities with populations of 250,000 to 499,999, which showed a 6.8 percent increase. Cities with populations of 500,000 to 999,999 had the highest increase in murders at 8.4 percent. (Federal Bureau of Investigations, Crime in the United States, 2005 and 2006 preliminary studies)
State and local police warn that further reductions in funding will result in a return to the violent crime of the early 1990s. Joseph Carter, President of the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, has warned that “when law-enforcement agencies are stretched too thin: crime rates rise.” Bush Administration budget cuts have caused state and local agencies to put fewer cops on the street and avert attention from community-based crime prevention programs. Mid-sized cities, which depend more on federal funds, have been particularly hurt. State and local law enforcement agencies fear that, unless basic policing is made a priority again, the violent crime increases of the past two years will be just the beginning of a new crime wave. (The Washington Times, “Police chiefs eye more federal aid; Association pleads for budget support to halt rise in crime,” 12/27/06; Time, “The Next Crime Wave,” 12/11/06)
The President’s Budget Proposes Further Cuts to State and Local First Responder and Law Enforcement Programs
Instead of responding to first responders and law enforcement officers’ calls for help, the President is asking Congress to:
§ Drastically cut $1.7 billion (or 50 percent) in funding from first responder programs in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
o Cut $348 million in funding for State formula grants. The budget request would fund these grants at $187 million.
o Cut $119 million in funding for the Law Enforcement Terrorism Protection Program (LETTP). LETTP makes grants to local law enforcement agencies to assist in homeland security-related planning, organization, training, exercises, and equipment. The request would fund this program at $263 million.
o Cut $185 million in funding for the Urban Area Grants program. This program is currently funded at $770 million.
o Cut $375 million in funding from the Firefighter Assistance Grants program. This program provides direct assistance to local fire departments to better protect firefighters and the public.
o Eliminate the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. SAFER makes grants to ensure that fire departments have 24-hour staffing.
NOTE: DHS spending cuts are calculated relative to the 2007 funding level, adjusted for inflation.
§ Massively cut 1.4 billion (or 54 percent) in funding for all state and local law enforcement programs in the Department of Justice (DOJ). The President’s total funding proposal for these programs is only 1.2 billion.
§ Cut $509 million (or 94 percent) from the COPS program and eliminate the hiring program. COPS helps state and local law enforcement agencies hire police officers, enhance crime fighting technology, support crime prevention initiatives, and combat methamphetamine use and distribution. The budget request provides only $32 million for the COPS program, which only supports programs that currently exist, and provides no funding for the hiring of new police officers.
§ Virtually eliminate the Byrne/JAG program. Byrne/JAG program helps state and local governments address gangs, drugs, and school violence. Under the 2007 continuing resolution passed by the House of Representatives (2007 CR), the program is slated to receive $514 million in funding.
§ Eliminate funding for the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program. This program promotes greater accountability in the juvenile justice system. Under the 2007 CR, the program is slated to receive $50 million in funding.
§ Eliminate funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). SCAAP assists state and local governments with the costs of jailing illegal immigrants who have committed crimes not related to their immigration status. Under the 2007 CR, the program is slated to receive $405 million in funding.
President Bush’s FY 2008 Budget also proposes cutting $12.2 million (or nine percent) in funding for the Office of Violence Against Women (VAW). VAW provides national leadership on issues relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking by providing grants to help victims with the protection and services they need. The budget request would eliminate all VAW formula grant programs, including the stop grant program and the sexual assault hotline grant program. Further, because the request shifts all funding to discretionary spending, grant programs that protect children and people with disabilities could be eliminated.
NOTE: DOJ spending cuts are calculated relative to the CR for FY 2007 passed by the House of Representatives, adjusted for inflation.
Fire fighter and law enforcement groups expressed disappointment with the President’s budget request. The General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Harold Schaitberger, noted that “this budget proposal puts the safety and security of the American people at risk. . . It is incredible to me that in the wake of numerous major disasters and increased threats against the homeland, this administration would continue to shortchange our nation’s first responders.” (FireFightingNews.com, 2/5/07)
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has stated that while they are “pleased to see that the Administration has proposed a new initiative designed to address the rising crime rates in our nation’s cities, we remain very concerned about its decision to eliminate or severely cut funding for proven, highly successful programs, like the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) and the COPS programs. . . Over the years, these assistance programs have provided state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies with the resources and tools they need to aggressively and effectively combat crime and violence in our communities.” (IACP, press release, 2/5/07)
Democrats are committed to assisting our nation’s first responders and law enforcement agencies in securing the country. While the President’s plan to create a grant program to curb violent crime should be applauded, it does not restore the billions of dollars in funding that have been stripped from state and local first responder and law enforcement programs during his Administration. To begin the process of restoring this funding, Senate Democrats have introduced S.368,the COPS Improvement Act of 2007, which will authorize $1.15 billion per year, for the next six years for police hiring grants, law enforcement technology grants, and community prosecutor grants. Together with state and local first responders and law enforcement officers, Democrats will take the country in a new – and more secure – direction.