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Legislative Alert

What Sequestration Means to State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement

By Meredith Ward, Manager, Legislative and Media Affairs, IACP

With the 112th Congressional Session coming to a close, issues such as federal deficits, budget cuts, and the sequestration are some of the most discussed topics today. Here, we explain sequestration; its probable impact on state, local, and tribal law enforcement; and how it can be avoided.

What Is Sequestration?

Sequestration is a series of automatic spending cuts that are set to take effect beginning January 2, 2013, until 2021. The spending cuts are a part of the overall Budget Control Act (BCA), which was passed in August 2011 and is expected to cut $1.2 trillion from federal spending. Split evenly between defense and domestic spending, these across-the-board cuts will range from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent. According to a recent White House report, the BCA is projected to slash $109 billion in the 2013 fiscal year and is likely to wreak havoc on federal agencies, including those who provide funding assistance to state, local, and tribal law enforcement.

The Origins of the Sequestration Package

During budget discussions in August 2011, Congress failed to reach an agreement regarding the looming debt limit. Without a vote, the federal government was estimated to default by the end of August. Before the default could occur, President Obama and Congress agreed to the BCA, which raised the debt limit by $2.1 trillion in exchange for automatic steep cuts and the establishment of a sequestration super committee. Under the BCA, automatic cuts would be triggered if the established super committee did not agree to a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan by November 23, 2011. The committee failed to reach an agreement, thus triggering sequestration.

The Impact on State, Local, and Tribal Agencies

In the last two years, federal funding for criminal justice assistance through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has dropped by an enormous 43 percent. Major programs affected by these cuts include the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG), cut by 34 percent, and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Grants, cut by 44 percent. In the last three years, funding for Byrne- JAG decreased from $511 million in fiscal year (FY) 2010 to $494 million in FY 2011, and then to $470 million in FY 2012. Similarly, funding for COPS decreased 75 percent from $792 million in FY 2010 to $485 million in FY 2011, and then to $198.5 million in FY 2012. These vital programs, as well as many others, are currently at historically low levels of funding and are threatened to be altogether cut out of the budget. Just last year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to eliminate COPS while pushing a 10-year history of budget cuts for Byrne-JAG.

The National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) and the Vera Institute of Justice suggest the impacts of cuts already are felt by numerous organizations. In their most recent survey, the NCJA and the Vera Institute discovered that 77 percent of respondents, including state and local criminal justice stakeholders, reported receiving smaller grants than they did in FY 2011. Of those respondents, 44 percent reported a funding drop of at least one-third while 14 percent reported a cut of more than one-half. Additionally, half of the respondents reported a cutback in their organizations’ personnel, further obstructing how law enforcement, legal services, and crime prevention groups carry out their jobs.

Findings of IACP’s April 2011Policing in the 21st Century: Preliminary Survey Results (, accessed November 9, 2012), further confirms the financial strain felt by budget cuts. Of the 400 respondents, 77 percent indicate they have been asked to increase support for other agencies despite 55 percent of them experiencing serious or severe problems due to the economy. The escalating financial limitations have caused 60 percent of responding agencies to cut back on crucial training and 58 percent of agencies to curtail major technology purchases or upgrades regardless of the growing workload.

What Can Be Done

The sequestration can be avoided, but only with congressional approval of another budget plan that focuses on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Although both parties have offered several proposals, to date, none have been approved.

The IACP is a firm believer in state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers as the first line of defense. Only with well-trained, well-equipped officers armed with the best information can law enforcement agencies protect the communities they serve. It is imperative that the budgets of these organizations be preserved and their resources be provided. These indiscriminate cuts, meant to pressure congressional leaders into a deal, harm local and state communities that benefit the various legal services, law enforcement leaders, and crime prevention programs that the DOJ funds. ♦

Please cite as:

Meredith Ward, "What Sequestration Means to State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement," Legislative Alert, The Police Chief 79 (December 2012): 10.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 12, December 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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