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Back to Archives | Back to October 2003 Contents 

Legislative Alert

Jennifer Boyter, IACP Legislative Analyst

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has announced plans to "reorganize to better mobilize" the people and resources of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to make the country more secure.

The biggest change comes in the area of air marshals. In order to make 5,000 more armed agents available to protect commercial flights, the air marshals program will be combined with the customs and immigration security programs so agents in both can be cross-trained and used for aviation security. This change will allow the government to put extra agents on airliners when officials believe terrorists are targeting those planes.

As part of the changes, the air marshals program will be moved from the Transportation Security Administration to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, both part of the Homeland Security Department.

Earlier this year, the administration came under criticism from lawmakers when it was learned the Transportation Security Administration wanted to cut 20 percent of its funding for the air marshals program due to budgetary concerns. Lawmakers vowed to block any such funding cuts.

In addition, the three current border inspections (immigration, customs, and agriculture) will be combined and performed by a single inspector. Ridge said that sending travelers through a single inspector instead of a sequence of three will provide for better screening. The first inspector will evaluate travelers and refer them for more detailed screening if the traveler raises suspicions.

The department also plans to establish a network of secure communications between the department and the states for sharing information about terrorist threats. The department has now installed secure telephone and video links to the emergency operations centers of all 50 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia.

Ridge also said that he had invited every governor to name five state officials to apply for security clearances so they could be given more information about terrorist threats.

Finally, the department will work to make it easier for state and local governments to obtain counterterrorism and security grants. The department will ask Congress to centralize the grant application process, which now is spread across numerous agencies under the Department of Homeland Security. This consolidation will put all of the federal government's major terrorism preparedness grants in one location for state and local officials. When complete, this will give state and local authorities a single point of contact for terrorism and emergency preparedness efforts.

Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Victims' Rights Amendment

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a proposal to amend the Constitution to specify certain rights for crime victims.

The victims' rights amendment (S J Res 1), adopted 10-8 by the committee, would require that crime victims or their representatives receive advance notification of judicial proceedings and parole hearings. The amendment would also give victims or their representatives the right to be heard at public release, plea sentencing, and other proceedings and would require judicial officials to consider victims' safety when deciding the fate of defendants.

A wide philosophical rift separates amendment supporters and critics. Critics believe that Congress should first try to enact victims' rights protections statutorily instead of through a constitutional amendment. They argue that even a well-worded constitutional amendment can have unintended consequences. They also note it would take another amendment to correct any problems.

Unlike other pending constitutional amendments, which tend to be brief, the proposed victims' rights amendment includes five sections. This has bolstered the claims of critics, who say the measure reads more like a statute than a constitutional amendment.

But supporters argue that only a constitutional amendment will elevate the rights of crime victims and ensure that judges and prosecutors heed them, and that nothing less than a constitutional amendment would be strong enough to survive legal challenges.

During consideration of the measure, several Democratic amendments were rejected, including one from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Committee, that is based on a bill (S 805) that would mandate victims' protections and notifications, and establish grant programs for victims. It would also have authorized $48 million in fiscal year 2004 to assist crime victims.

The resolution now moves to the Senate floor, where it will not be considered until next year. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the bill's sponsors, said that Senate passage would be "an uphill battle" and the success of the resolution depended on how hard victims' rights advocates continued to fight for it.

Two similar resolutions (H J Res 10 and H J Res 48) have been introduced in the House. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) does not support the idea of a constitutional amendment.

Proposed constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of approval by each chamber. If cleared by Congress and ratified by at least 38 states, the proposal would be the 28th amendment to the Constitution and the first since 1992.

In October 2002 the IACP Executive Committee formally approved the association's support for the proposed amendment. IACP President Joseph Samuels stated, "The IACP strongly supports the adoption of the Victims' Rights Amendment. The time has come to ensure that victims of crime are treated fairly by the criminal justice system."

Before endorsing the proposed amendment, the Executive Committee considered the proposed amendment's impact on law enforcement and the criminal justice system. "It is our belief that the proposed amendment has been carefully crafted in order to protect the rights of victims without impeding the rights of the accused or hindering the ability of law enforcement or prosecutors to effectively apprehend or convict criminals," added Chief Samuels.


From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 10, October 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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