In the past two and a half years, the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States have been working tirelessly to combat the menace of terrorism. Police officers have been asked to tackle new challenges and confront a multitude of new threats. As a result of their efforts, our agencies now play a vital and indispensable role in the investigation of, prevention of, and response to terrorist acts, while at the same time they have continued to fulfill their primary responsibilities to protect our communities from more traditional acts of crime and violence.
As police chiefs, we know that meeting these dual responsibilities has been neither easy nor inexpensive. After September 11, 2001, agencies and officers who had been trained and equipped to deal with traditional crimes were forced to switch their focus to identifying and apprehending individuals whose motivations, objectives, and weapons differ from those of traditional criminals. As a result, already tight state, county, municipal, and tribal budgets were forced to absorb the costs associated with increased training needs, overtime, and equipment purchases. Add to this the expenses we absorb each time the national alert status is elevated, and resources are stretched to the breaking point.
For two and half years, our agencies and our officers have willingly made the sacrifices necessary to meet this challenge. We have done so because we understand the importance of what we have been asked to do, and we remain committed to fulfilling our mission of protecting the public. But the expenditure of resources necessary to maintain this effort have left many police departments in a financial situation so dire that their ability to provide the services their citizens expect, and deserve, has been threatened.
Just how bad is it? Bad enough that at a time when police agencies are being asked to play a bigger role in homeland security many have been forced to lay off officers. One dramatic example of this disturbing situation recently occurred in Oregon, where budgetary pressures forced the Oregon State Police to lay off more than 120 state troopers and eliminate the positions of 150 support personnel.
This situation is simply intolerable. It must not be allowed to continue.
Unfortunately, the recently proposed fiscal year 2005 federal budget does little to address this critical need. In fact, if enacted, the proposals would likely make the financial difficulties faced by many state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies considerably worse, forcing many more agencies to reduce services and lay off additional officers.
According to an analysis prepared by the IACP, the proposed budget would, at a minimum, reduce funding for primary law enforcement assistance programs at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice by more than $1.4 billion. This includes significant cuts in programs such as the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant, the Community Oriented Policing Services Program, and the State Homeland Security Grant. All of these programs have played a vital role in recent years in dramatically increasing the capabilities and effectiveness of our agencies. There is no doubt that targeting these critical programs for reductions of this magnitude has the potential to weaken the ability of our agencies to protect our communities from both traditional acts of crime and the new specter of terrorism. This is clearly unacceptable.
At this crucial time in our nation’s history, when our states, cities, and towns are doing all that they can to ensure the safety of their populace, it is imperative that we ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the resources necessary to accomplish their mission. In the coming months, the IACP will be doing all that it can to ensure that our elected officials understand the needs of the law enforcement community and the resources that we need to meet the challenges that face us are made available. We will drive home the message that funding for our nation’s law enforcement agencies is an issue that must be viewed as separate and apart from politics. This is not the time to allow partisan differences to delay or hinder efforts to aid our police officers. It is an issue that must be a shared priority of both the administration and Congress.
Over the years, we have often heard elected officials reaffirm their support for our troops regardless of whether or not they agreed with the mission that they were being asked to accomplish. Indeed, many elected officials have made it clear that they will support funding measures for military operations that they oppose because it is unthinkable that our soldiers could find themselves deprived of the necessary resources while they risk their lives to protect ours.
The same should hold true for our nation’s law enforcement officers. Just like the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces, police officers place themselves in harm’s way daily. On average, 150 lose their lives in the line of duty each year. Police officers are this nation’s frontline troops in protecting the homeland. Every day they are dealing with terrorist threats, murders, rapes, robberies, drugs, burglaries, auto thefts, and myriad other crimes.
Police officers deserve the thanks of our citizens and the support of our elected leaders. It is time for Congress and the administration to put aside partisan differences over how to assist state and local law enforcement agencies and to work together to ensure that our officers have the tools they need to win the battles that they fight each and every day. ♦