Police fret over funding cuts

International Association of Chiefs of Police

PHILADELPHIA — Police chiefs and mayors nationwide called on Congress and the Bush administration today to fully restore two local law enforcement funding programs, including money for communications interoperability.

Congress is debating the fates of the Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS), which the House is proposing to cut by 50 percent; and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program (LLEBG), which the Senate is proposing to cut by 60 percent, local officials said.

"This is simply unacceptable," said Hempstead, N.Y., Mayor James Garner, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We're here to call on Congress to fully restore these programs."

Garner and Mayor Scott King of Gary, Ind., spoke at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Philadelphia, where they joined several police chiefs from around the country in voicing opposition to program cuts. They warned funding cuts could result in police layoffs and cutbacks in other public safety programs.

King said these two 10-year-old, bipartisan programs were instrumental in hiring more police officers and providing police departments with technological tools to reduce crime. COPS and LLEBG "were absolutely the cornerstone in the [crime] reductions we enjoy," King said.

Both programs provided direct funding to cities. COPS is credited with helping put more than 100,000 additional police officers on the nation's streets and funding various technology applications. LLEBG also provided technological assistance for departments.

Local officials said even though the federal government may be providing more homeland security funding, such money would be funneled through state agencies that could divert or delay funds.

A provision within the recently approved $87 billion aid package to help support troops and rebuild Iraq contained a $950 million provision to help build and train policing in that country. "That $950 million is precisely the amount we are asking to be continued for COPS and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program," King said.

Congress may also eliminate funding for interoperable communications within the COPS program, said Harlin McEwen, former Ithaca, N.Y., police chief and former deputy assistant director with the FBI. Last year, officials distributed more than $40 million to improve police communication.

Although interoperability has been a long-standing issue with law enforcement officials, it became a national concern after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when New York City police officers and fire fighters couldn't communicate with their commanders. Many observers blame hundreds of deaths on that communication failure.

The federal government is providing such funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Domestic Preparedness, both within the Homeland Security Department, but such funding is also funneled through state governments, McEwen said.

Congress shouldn't shift funding from one pot to another, because they are obliged to provide national security and neighborhood safety, said Joseph Samuels Jr., police chief of Richmond, Calif., and the current IACP president. It's analogous to a surgeon deciding whether to operate on the brain or the heart when both are critical, Samuels said.

"Our nation's borders are only as good as the neighborhood beats we patrol," he said.


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