By Ronald C. Ruecker
|Ronald C. Ruecker, Director of Public Safety, City of Sherwood, Oregon|
n the United States, there are more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and well over 700,000 officers who patrol our state highways and the streets of our communities each and every day. During the past 15 years, these officers and the law enforcement agencies they serve have made tremendous strides in reducing the level of crime and violence in our communities. This has been accomplished in part because these officers have an intimate knowledge of their communities and because they have developed close relationships with the citizens they serve.
Yet, despite the best efforts of U.S. law enforcement officers, the disturbing truth is that in 2006, over 1.4 million of our fellow citizens were victims of violent crime, and more than 9 million citizens were victims of property crimes. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Crime Clock,” a violent crime is committed every 22.2 seconds; a property crime, every 3.2 seconds.
Given these facts, it is clear that state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies continue to face a difficult and demanding challenge in combating crime and fulfilling their sworn duty to protect the public.
However, in recent years the very programs that have formed the cornerstone of our crime reduction efforts, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, have suffered significant budget reductions.
This is both unfortunate and shortsighted, for these programs have consistently demonstrated that they provide valuable and critical resources to state, tribal, and local law enforcement communities. By reducing, and in some cases eliminating, funding for these successful programs, Congress and the administration have significantly reduced the ability of law enforcement agencies to combat both crime and terrorism. The simple truth is that today, police departments throughout the United States have far fewer officers and resources than they did in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, the administration’s recently released proposed fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget does not offer much hope for reversing this trend. As in previous budget submissions, funding for the JAG program, which was established several years ago by combining the Byrne grant program and the Local Law Enforcement Block grant program, was completely eliminated. In addition, funding for the COPS program was also slated for elimination. In FY 2008, these programs were funded at $757 million.
The impact of these proposed eliminations is even more dramatic when compared with their funding levels just a few short years ago. In 2002, these same programs were funded at more than $2.2 billion.
Unfortunately, the cuts contained in the proposed FY 2009 budget have the potential to cripple the capabilities of law enforcement agencies across the United States and force many departments to take officers off the streets, leading to more crime and violence in our hometowns and ultimately less security for our homeland.
Rest assured that the IACP, through events like Day on the Hill and meetings with key policy makers, will be doing all it can to ensure that our elected officials understand the needs of the law enforcement community and how vital these resources are if we are to meet the challenges that face us.
But to be successful in this effort, we all need to get involved. It is imperative that you contact your elected representatives and let them know what the loss of federal assistance funding will mean to your ability to police your community effectively.
There is too much at stake for police executives to remain on the sidelines while our elected leaders consider proposals that could dramatically alter the way our agencies operate. If we do not speak up, our agencies could be asked to undertake a mission for which we lack the proper resources, and that could degrade our ability to protect our communities.
The entire law enforcement community, officers and executives alike, has had to accept new responsibilities and adapt to meet the new reality we all share. But we must do more. We must ensure that our elected leaders understand the impact that their decision will have on our communities and the citizens we serve. ■