Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats Are Still Committed to Investing in Law Enforcement and Safeguarding the Nation from Crime

For years, state and local law enforcement and Congressional Democrats have warned that funding cuts to state and local law enforcement programs at a time when law enforcement agencies are already stretched-thin by increasing homeland security responsibilities and war deployments would lead to fewer cops on the street, fewer resources for traditional crime fighting, and, eventually, an increase in violent crime. President Bush and Congressional Republicans, however, ignored their warning in favor of drastic funding cuts to critical law enforcement programs, including the COPS program and the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. In 2005, the country reaped the consequences of that failed fiscal policy when the nation’s violent crime rate increased significantly for the first time in nearly 15 years and then increased again in 2006.

In June 2008, the nation received some good news: the FBI reported that violent crime, which had jumped in 2005 and 2006, decreased in 2007. Though preliminary, these findings are an encouraging sign that pressure to renew focus on fighting traditional crime is yielding measurable results. Whatever the cause, one thing is certain: a preliminary decrease should not result in a decrease in our efforts to combat violent crime. If anything, Congress, the Bush Administration, and state and local governments should feel more motivated to increase resources for law enforcement. After all, 2007’s preliminary 1.4 percent decrease from 2006 does not nullify 2006’S.1.9 percent increase from 2005 or 2005’s whopping 2.3 percent increase in violent crime from 2004.[1]

As we move forward in the 110th Congress, the state and local law enforcement community and the American people can rest assured that Senate Democrats will remain committed to providing law enforcement the funding, legal, and administrative tools necessary to safeguard the nation from crime.

Senate Democrats have a long history of supporting state and local law enforcement programs in an effort to combat violent crime. More than ten years ago, Congress passed landmark legislation to help state and local law enforcement agencies reduce the nation’s crime rate. In the early 1990’s, the country was in the midst of a violent crime wave. Over the previous 25 years, violent crime had increased by 139 percent, and experts were making dire predictions about the future.  Then something changed:  from 1994 through 2000, federal and local government initiated tough, smart programs that made a difference. 

In 1994, Congress, with the leadership of Democratic Senator and sponsor of the legislation Joseph Biden, passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (the Crime Bill), one of the most significant pieces of anti-crime legislation in the history of the country. The bill provided, amongst other things, federal funds to allow state and local law enforcement agencies to hire additional police officers and employ innovative crime-fighting strategies.

The COPS program has led to a reduction in violent crime.  The Crime Bill created the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.  This program, which is administered through the Department of Justice (DOJ), has revolutionized state and local law enforcement, enabling police officials to hire nearly 118,000 officers (including 6,500 school resource officers) in more than 13,000 (out of nearly 18,000) agencies across America. [2]  The grant program also allowed agencies to advance technology and improve capabilities with in-car computers, in-car cameras, computerized dispatch systems, and interoperable communications.[3]

This investment in state and local law enforcement paid off: between 1994 and 2000, violent crime decreased nationwide by nearly 26 percent, and the murder and non-negligent homicide rate dropped by nearly 34 percent.[4]  Violent crime continued to decline through the first years of this decade, until 2005.[5] Ironically, in October of that year, Congress’s independent watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), credited COPS with reducing crime.  GAO found that for every dollar spent in COPS hiring per resident, crime fell by almost 30 incidents per 100,000 residents.[6] 

Instead of maintaining or increasing funding levels, President Bush and Congressional Republicans drastically reducedfunding for successful state and local law enforcement programs.  Despite the success of COPS, President Bush attempted to gut funding for its hiring program beginning with his first budget proposal in 2001.  In 1997 and 1998, approximately $1.2 billion dollars were spent each year by the federal government to hire new police officers under COPS.  By 2006, after steady decreases, that number had fallen to $0. 

The Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans did not stop there, reducing funding for other DOJ programs, including the Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance grant program (Byrne) and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program (LLEBG). In 1997 and 1998, roughly $900 million was spent on these programs. As soon as they were consolidated into the new Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program (Byrne/JAG), the President proposed a cut of $123 million, and by 2006, Congress had cut the program by nearly $400 million.  In 2006, the Administration proposed eliminating Byrne/JAG altogether.  Congressional Republicans cut funding for these programs by nearly 50 percent, which was better than the alternative, but not good enough.

Reduced federal funding has led to a dangerous "cop crunch." 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. Moreover, these cuts could not have come at a worse time when police departments are already faced with increasing homeland security duties and the loss of reservists and candidates for police service to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.[7]

Charles Ramsey, Police Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that:

[w]ith additional funds, we, like many other major city police departments, could increase the number of police officers on the street, enhance our technological capabilities, improve the training of our officers on the best practices of modern policing and rehabilitate our inadequate facilities… Between April 1, 1995 and August 31, 1999, the City of Philadelphia hired 773 police officers under the COPS program. However, … the funding for that program has been drastically scaled back since 2002. As a result of this change and other challenges, the number of police officers on the streets declined for several years.[8]

Joseph Carter, Immediate Past President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), warned that "when law-enforcement agencies are stretched too thin: crime rates rise."[9]

Smaller and 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.[10]

Irresponsible Bush budget cuts and fewer cops on the street eventually contributed to a rise in violent crime. In 2005, the nation’s violent crime rate showed an alarming reversal by increasing 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.  Murders increased by 3.4 percent; robbery increased by 3.9 percent; and aggravated assault increased by 1.8 percent.[11]

With the release of the FBI’s Crime Report for 2006, last year’s "up-tick" in violent crime is beginning to look more like a trend of increasing violent crime. Overall, violent crime increased by 1.9 percent from 2005, a higher percentage than was estimated in June’s preliminary report.[12] The number of homicides rose by 1.8 percent and robbery increased by a very alarming 7.2 percent; both rates are significantly higher than originally predicted.[13]

While these increases may seem modest, consider that the 1.9 percent increase in violent crime between 2005 and 2006 means that 27,000 additional crimes were committed and the 1.8 percent increase in homicides means that nearly 300 additional men, women, children — our friends, family, neighbors — were killed.[14] The 2005 and 2006 increases represent the "first steady increase in violent crime since 1993" the year before the Crime Bill was enacted.[15]

Instead of adequately responding to law enforcement officers’ calls for help or the increase in violent crime, President Bush offered more of the same budget cuts to state and local law enforcement. In 2007, the President asked Congress to cut $1.4 billion (or 54 percent) in funding for all state and local law enforcement programs in the Department of Justice (DOJ) in his Fiscal Year 2008 budget request, and then, this year, proposed a $1.6 billion (or 63 percent) cut to state and local law enforcement grants in his Fiscal Year 2009 budget request.

On the Fiscal Year 2009 budget, Jeffrey Horvath, Chief of Police of Dover, Delaware testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that "[l]aw enforcement is being asked to do more with less. If we have fewer police on the streets to prevent crime and to protect our communities we will see a rise in crime across this country. That is inevitable. The COPS program used to be funded at over one billion dollars. It has been cut to $20 million in [F]iscal [Y]ear 2008. The presidents proposed budget for [F]iscal [Y]ear 2009 would completely eliminate the COPS program. As a police chief[,] I consider this madness."[16] The Fiscal Year 2009 budget would also eliminate funding for the Byrne/JAG program.

For a detailed analysis of the President’s Fiscal Year 2008 and Fiscal Year 2009 budget requests, see the DPC Fact Sheets entitled The President’s Budget Would Cut Funding for Important State and Local Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Programs . . . Again and The Bush Budget Shortchanges State and Local Law Enforcement and First Responders.

Despite assertions to the contrary, DHS funding has not made up for the reduction in DOJ program funding.  The Bush Administration defends its cuts to local law enforcement programs by claiming that the Department of Homeland Security provides grants for state and local purposes.  While this is true and important, much of those funds are earmarked for counter-terrorism efforts, not local law enforcement.  Since 9/11, local police departments in many cities have had to divert officers from their traditional duties to guard airports, borders, transportation infrastructure, utilities, and special events.  The same is true at the national level, where the President reassigned 1,000 FBI agents previously combating crime to countering terrorism, which, as a practical matter, has only put more responsibility on localities. Asking these departments to do double duty with less money is, as Police Chief Mary Ann Viverette, Past President of the IACP, noted, "both hypocritical and irresponsible."[17] 

Moreover, even Homeland Security grants to local law enforcement have been cut by the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans. According to Patrolman Thomas Nee, President of the National Association of Police Organizations, "the three primary DHS programs – the State Homeland Security Grant Program, the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, and the Urban Area Security Initiative – have been slashed by almost 50 percent from [F]iscal [Y]ear 2003 levels, when these programs received more than $3 billion in funding. Nevertheless, law enforcement’s role in homeland security has not diminished along with the funding."[18]

Under the leadership of Democrats, Congress has begun restoring Bush budget cuts to state and local law enforcement programs. Within six weeks of convening the 110th Congress, Democrats passed continuing appropriations for Fiscal Year 2007 that provided more than $2.7 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance programs and began the process of restoring the more than $2 billion in cuts made to these programs since President Bush took office in 2001. Later that year, in the Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations, Congress provided nearly $2.7 billion for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention grants, which rejected most the cuts proposed by the President’S.2008 budget request. At the national level, the Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations also provided for more resources at the FBI to be spent on counterterrorism and crime prevention.

Looking toward Fiscal Year 2009, the Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed funding state and local law enforcement and crime prevention grants at $3.1 billion, which would provide $600 million for COPS, including $50 million for the hiring program; $581 million for Byrne/JAG, $400 million for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention; and $400 million to prevent violence against women.

Funding state and local law enforcement not only saves lives, it saves money. In a recent policy briefing, Yale economist John Donohue and Georgetown economist Jens Ludwig estimated that crime in the United States costs Americans approximately $2 trillion per year. Included in this total: "[N]early $700 billion come[s] from costs to victims, of which around $490 billion come[s] from serious violent crimes (nearly $180 billion from homicides alone). Additional costs to society from crime come from the approximately $350 billion worth of time and goods dedicated to protecting against crime by private citizens and firms as well as government agencies, $250 billion from the lost value of criminals’ time spent planning crimes or in prison, and the remaining $700 billion or so is from costs imposed by white collar or economic crimes." These experts approximate that for each $1.4 billion invested in the COPS program society will benefit by $6 billion to $12 billion.[19]

In addition to appropriations, Congress, under the leadership of Democrats, has enacted several other crime-fighting measures: