Restore federal grants to task forces that fight crime
Federal grants have been reduced by two-thirds to task forces that fight serious crimes.
DOWNTURNS in the economy typically are joined by an upsurge in crime, and a slash in federal assistance to state and local enforcement is likely to be devastating as the nation slides into recession. That is what Congress has done, and it needs to restore funding that is vital to bring crime under control.
Federal funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, named after a slain New York policeman, amounted to more than $1 billion in 2001. It was gradually reduced to $520 million in the last fiscal year, but it plummeted to $170 million this year as part of an appropriations bill signed by President Bush in December.
In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders, 56 senators noted last month that the Senate had approved expenditures of $660 million for the program but reduced the amount following a veto threat by Bush. The letter said "difficult choices had to be made in conference."
The funding reduction caught law-enforcement agencies across the nation by surprise. They warn of an increase in drug trafficking and other serious crimes as the economy worsens unless the money is restored.
The grant program brought $2.4 million to Hawaii last year for 27 projects aimed at reducing illegal drug activity and violent crime and upgrading law enforcement technology. Under the current appropriation, Hawaii would receive $890,000. Two Hawaii drug task forces receiving the grant money seized 20 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, 23 pounds of cocaine and 222 pounds of marijuana last year.
Federally funded task forces in states along the U.S. border with Mexico have intercepted large quantities of illegal drugs destined for major U.S. cities. Such task forces "address not only local drug problems, but they are gatekeeping for the rest of the country," Derek Rapier, an Arizona county attorney, told the Pew Research Center's Stateline.org.
All 50 governors and state attorneys general are urging Congress to restore the funding at least to the 2007 level. They are joined by the National Association of Counties, the National Sheriffs Association and other law-enforcement organizations.
The senators' letter warns that law-enforcement agencies might have to dismantle task forces that took years to create and develop. Lt. Dan Springer, commander of a Montana task force, told Stateline.org that it was unlikely the task force would be able to "pause" its work this year and resume in the future after funding is restored.
Bank accounts, computer lines and relationships with informants need to be maintained, Springer said. "Most people will tell you: To maintain a business is cheaper. To start a business is very expensive."