President’s Message: Act Now to Help Forestall the Coming Financial Crisis in Policing

Law enforcement agencies of all sizes and makeup are facing an imminent financial crisis of monumental proportions!

Do I have your attention now? I hope so. Here are some sobering statistics for you to consider. Over the last three years, funding levels for the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLEBG), the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program, and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program has been cut by $1.2 billion. This represents a 50 percent cut to these crucial programs.

Every chief, sheriff, colonel, or agency head manages a budget effort on his or her level. Most of those are achieved as a result of direct taxes from their communities. In the past few years, almost without exception, agencies have had to do the same job or face increased responsibilities for community safety initiatives while facing reduced funding for everything outside of salaries.
Discretionary funding in law enforcement agencies has become a favorite target in the annual budget battles. And now, the last resource most agencies have for trying to make up for those losses, federal grants and assistance, is also under attack, and current proposals indicating substantial cuts may well mean significant cutbacks in operations if not elimination and no way to keep pace with technological or communications advancements.

Those of you who have been in service since before the Bush and Clinton administrations will recall the changes in the federal funding landscape. Republican ideas for funding differ from Democratic ideas but until now overall funding has remained at a fairly substantial and consistent level. Only the names and guidelines changed.

But now, despite some of the rhetoric and new names, funding levels are dramatically lower and there is no sign that they will reappear somewhere else. Some claim that with the addition of U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant funding there has actually been a net increase of funds available for law enforcement agencies.

This is simply not the case. Not only do the Homeland Security grant programs fund different types of priorities but since these funds are meant for all first responders and not just law enforcement agencies the available funds must be distributed among a vastly larger pool of potential recipients. Simply put, comparing the COPS, LLEBG, and Byrne Grant programs to the programs funded by the Department of Homeland Security is like comparing apples to oranges: it just doesn’t add up.

Now, we all agree that funding for fighting terrorism, securing our communities from attacks, and preparing first responders is important. But it cannot come at the expense of our day-to-day crime fighting and community policing efforts.
We still face the distribution of drugs on our streets, violent crime, domestic violence, sexual offenses, and myriad other criminal challenges. We have communities that need direction and leadership from their law enforcement agencies. We need to keep pace with the technological revolution that is occurring and keep our officers at the front edge of these developments and not lagging behind.

Congress must understand that new demands and responsibilities mean that law enforcement needs additional resources for these challenges, not reductions or redirection. They must hear it now, from every corner of the United States, from every five-officer department that will not be able to buy new radios next year, and from every major metropolitan area that faces reduction or elimination of multijurisdictional drug task forces. We must keep the pressure on until Congress gets the message.

I urge you to visit the IACP’s Web site (www.theiacp.org) and visit the Legislative Activities page. Read the material there, open and read the Capitol Reports that the IACP sends to you by e-mail, click the Contact Congress link, and follow the simple steps to pass this message on to your senator and representative. Follow it up with a personal phone call. And if they are back home in their respective jurisdiction, make the case to them in person.

It is our responsibility as police chiefs to ensure that our elected officials understand that our agencies are being stretched to the breaking point by the addition of new responsibilities and the loss of critical resources. If we do not speak up and make our voices heard, our agencies could be asked to undertake a mission for which we lack the proper resources and, as a result, our ability to effectively police our communities and protect our citizens will be diminished. ♦