Senate Democrats


Sheriffs, police chiefs, and experts tell Senate Democratic Policy Committee of dangerous results across country

Washington, DC — With violent crime rising in cities and towns across the country, and with the Bush Administration cutting funding to vital programs that help put police on the streets, local sheriffs, police chiefs, and law enforcement experts today called on Congress to take action to help them protect the American people. The officers appeared at a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing chaired by North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan that was investigating the effect these cuts have had on the ability of police departments to protect their communities, and they made clear the result is unmistakable.

“The reality is that we simply do not have the necessary federal support to fight the war on drugs and sweep the streets of criminals,” said Ted Kamatchus, Sheriff of Marshall County, Iowa, and President of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Just last month, the FBI released a report that shows violent crime in the U.S. is on the rise, posting its biggest one-year increase since 1991. Nationwide, murders rose by 4.8% over 2005, the largest percentage increase in 15 years.

“Crime dropped in the 1990s when we made fighting crime a national priority and invested the money to put more officers on the streets,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid at the hearing. “We need to make that same commitment today. Unfortunately, we don’t see it in Washington. President Bush has dropped the ball on crime. He’s dangerously underfunding our hometown security with a budget that makes our communities less safe.”

“The record is clear that federal law enforcement programs were succeeding in reducing crime and doing so significantly,” Senator Dorgan said. “Unfortunately, in fact, tragically, the Administration’s response to that success was to cut or end the programs. The result has been exactly what one would expect. There’s a lot of talk about homeland security, but the record reveals that we also need to be concerned about hometown security, and current policy isn’t working.”

In the last five years, the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress have slashed federal funding that helped local law enforcement agencies hire new officers to keep their cities and towns safe. The funding proved vital to drastically reducing the levels of violent crime in the early 1990s. Cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin have seen their funding cut dangerously. In 2002, Milwaukee received in nearly $1 million in federal funding. It received zero dollars in 2005. The Milwaukee Police Department now has 55 fewer officers. Between 2004 and 2005, the city saw violent crime increase 32%. In Iowa, Sheriff Kamatchus drew a direct line between the funding cuts and a 30% decline in arrest rates.

“We are constantly being asked to do more with less,” said Gary Hagler, Chief of Police in Flint, Michigan, a city that has seen its funding drop to zero from nearly $2 million in 2000. “The Federal Government asks us to be vigilant in investigating Homeland Security issues and in gathering intelligence, both of which are time consuming endeavors. I believe that we have reached our saturation point. We cannot continue to take on additional responsibilities without supplementary funding sources for police personnel and equipment. I would charge that critics of community policing and COPS funding have not had first hand experience with the violence and death found upon the streets of some of our most crime ridden cities.”

Violent crime in Flint is up 34% since 2001.

Minneapolis, Minnesota received nearly 70% less funding from 2002 to 2006 than from 1994 to 2001. Said Timothy J. Dolan, Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, “In 1996, prior to the Block Grants, the city was labeled ‘Murderopolis’, by the New York Times, due to a spike in murders that year (in 1997, we had a 50% decrease). After a decade of ‘holding our own,’ due in part to grant funding, the MPD is now experiencing challenges in the growing violent crime rate. There is no doubt that additional well-equipped officers are needed to combat the current rise in crime in Minneapolis. 2005 showed a 15% increase in Part I Crimes.”

The officers were blunt in their criticism, pointing out just why a commitment to supporting local law enforcement is more important than ever.

“At a time when law enforcement agencies have to be extra vigilant in protecting our communities from foreign and domestic terrorism, as well as carry on our traditional law enforcement role, the reduction of federal grant funds will not only have an adverse impact on local communities, but our nation as a whole,” said Brian O’Keefe, Deputy Chief of Police at the Milwaukee Police Department.

It was a concern backed up by criminal justice experts as well, who pointed the finger squarely at the White House.

“The President is clearly playing politics with policing, and jeopardizing us all in the process,” said James Alan Fox, the Lipman Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. “Looking back over the last decade, it was the federal government’s initiative to add 100,000 police officers through the COPS Office, that was key to much of the success in cutting crime through the 1990s.”

The hearing was a sobering reminder of the dangerous effects that bad decisions in Washington can have across America. With violent crime rates on the rise, Professor Fox was clear: “Let this small upturn serve as a thunderous wake-up call down in the nation’s capital that crime prevention, police funding, and gun control need to be a priority once again.”