Sen. Barack ObamaIn its recently released report To Protect and Defend: The Public Safety and Homeland Security Challenges Facing the Next U.S. President, the IACP called upon the next president to establish a Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and Homeland Security that would be charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system. The commission would also be required to provide the nation with a strategic plan to guide our nation’s criminal justice and homeland security efforts. As president, will you establish this commission during your first 100 days in office?
I am an original cosponsor of the COPS Improvement Act introduced in 2007 by Senator Joe Biden, my nominee for vice president, and fully support the provision establishing a National Commission on Crime Intervention and Prevention Strategies (NCCIPS). In 1967, recognizing that there is a role for the federal government in crime fighting and crime prevention, President Lyndon Johnson created the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. This commission produced the groundbreaking report The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, which made more than 200 recommendations for a comprehensive approach toward crime fighting and crime prevention. Like the Johnson Commission, the NCCIPS will investigate approaches that are successful and help state and local law enforcement implement these effective strategies to fight and prevent crime. The NCCIPS will also tackle the new 21st-century crime and homeland security challenges the country faces.
Federal homeland security and law enforcement assistance funds have suffered tremendous reductions over the last several years. As president, what steps will you take to ensure that state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies have the resources necessary to protect their communities?
As president, my budget will reflect my belief that protecting our citizens and safeguarding our communities is our first and most solemn duty in government. State and local law enforcement are under more pressure than ever with increased homeland security responsibilities, steadily high crime rates, and reduced budgets. In the 1990s, we invested more than $2 billion per year in our state, local, and tribal law enforcement and saw crime rates drop for eight straight years—with violent crime and murder down 30 percent. But when the Bush administration took office, it cut law enforcement funding, with the support of my opponent, Senator McCain. Crime rates began to rise again. Now, while high crime rates continue to plague cities across the nation, the Bush administration proposes to fund law enforcement for 2009 at an anemic $404 million.
It’s an outrage that the Bush administration has been decimating the COPS program since it took office, taking police officers off the streets at the very moment they’re needed most. Cutting support for state and local law enforcement is not being “tough on crime”—especially when we’re asking local law enforcement to address crime and homeland security. Senator McCain’s approach promises more of the same. He voted against the 1994 crime bill, calling it “ineffective” and “ill-conceived.” And time and time again, he has voted against increasing funding for cops and equipment and technology for law enforcement.
If I am president, I will reestablish the federal partnership with state, local, and tribal law enforcement by funding the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, the COPS program, and the Law Enforcement and Terrorism Prevention Program. I will also ensure that our federal law enforcement agencies are equipped to fight terrorism and crime by ensuring that the FBI and DEA are appropriately staffed and that the federal local law enforcement task forces have the support they need.
Regarding our homeland security, I believe we must ensure our nation’s law enforcement has the resources necessary for the training, equipment, and manpower needed to meet the homeland security needs of our country. I support the approach of my running mate, Joe Biden, who introduced a bill this year which ensures that state, local, and tribal law enforcement are full partners in shaping our homeland security strategy; gives the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for state and local law enforcement a budget and program responsibility; funds the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program and the Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program as separate initiatives; and mandates better coordination of our intelligence-sharing apparatus.
The national homeland security strategy thus far has focused on federal agencies and large urban target areas. As president, how would you ensure that all state, local, and tribal law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners are integrated into a comprehensive and broadbased strategy?
As president, I would ensure full integration of state, local, and tribal law enforcement into a comprehensive homeland security strategy.
First, I would make sure that local law enforcement is a full partner in the development of our homeland security strategy by requiring the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for state and local law enforcement to report directly to the secretary instead of some lower-level official; I would also give this person an actual budget with program management responsibilities.
Second, I would ensure—as I did in the Illinois legislature—that all stakeholders are consulted regarding matters of public safety. I brought law enforcement officers, civil-rights groups, and other advocates together to help fix a broken death penalty system. My running mate took a similarly inclusive approach in passing the 1994 omnibus crime bill. In an Obama-Biden administration, law enforcement will be at the table in developing a comprehensive approach to fighting crime.
Issues arising from illegal immigration continue to drain state, local, and tribal resources. As president, what tools and assistance, aside from the 287(g) program, will you provide to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to deal with this growing problem?
I understand the frustration at the local level with the federal government’s failure to manage immigration. Managing immigration is a federal responsibility; it’s a national problem and it requires a national solution. That is why I will make comprehensive immigration reform a priority in my first term as president.
I helped lead the fight for comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate, and I will make it a priority as president. Joe Biden and I support a system that secures our borders by adding new personnel, infrastructure, and technology on the border and, by giving our agents better real-time intelligence, cracks down on employers that hire undocumented immigrants to keep wages down; helps communities hit hardest by this problem; and requires the 12 million undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and get in the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens. We can have an immigration policy that respects the rule of law and is practical and fair.
Narcotics abuse and trafficking continues to be a problem that state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers face every day. How would you ensure that enforcement, prevention, and treatment programs receive equal resources and assistance to combat this growing problem?
Drug trafficking has long been a scourge on our society, and we need a national drug policy that focuses on tackling new threats with tough enforcement measures while also providing for robust prevention and treatment programs. All three of these components—enforcement, prevention, and treatment—are critical to a complete national drug control strategy, and each will be a key part of my agenda in an Obama-Biden administration.
Funding the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program is essential to avoid law enforcement layoffs and cuts to hundreds of antidrug and antigang efforts across the country. The administration has consistently proposed to cut or eliminate funding for the Byrne-JAG Program, which funds antidrug and antigang task forces across the country. Byrne-JAG also funds prevention and drug treatment programs that are critical to reducing U.S. demand for drugs. Since 2000, this program has been cut more than 83 percent. These cuts threaten hundreds of multijurisdictional drug and gang task forces—many that took years to create and develop. In my home state of Illinois, the Byrne grants have been used effectively to fund antimeth task forces, and I have consistently fought for increased funding for this program. As president, I will restore funding to this critical program.
Tough enforcement against major drug traffickers is also a must. I cosponsored the Combat Meth Act, which created tougher penalties for the production and smuggling of meth. And I support Joe Biden’s recently written legislation that would criminalize the use of submarine-like vessels that carry up to 10 tons of cocaine from South America into Mexico and then the United States, often without detection. (The Coast Guard and Navy recently intercepted one such vessel with over $100 million worth of cocaine hidden in a secret compartment.) As president, I will continue the fight to rid our communities of meth and offer support to help addicts heal and reduce the demand for the drug. I will work to cut off drug lab supplies by restricting global imports of precursor chemicals, and I will take on the Mexican drug cartels in partnership with Mexico and other nations in the region.
I would also ensure that Congress robustly funds prevention and treatment programs like the Second Chance Act, Drug Courts, and the Drug Free Communities Support Program. These laws created grant programs to help give state, local, and tribal law enforcement the tools and resources they need to tackle emerging drug threats like prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse as well as the continued scourge of meth, and to address the vast number of inmates who require drug treatment in order to help ensure they will be law-abiding, productive members of society when they are released. I cosponsored the Second Chance Act and have been a proponent of drug courts since my days in Illinois, and I will continue to support (and, in the case of drug courts, expand) these programs as president.
Finally, it’s important that we address the crime and security problems in Latin America that have clear spillover effects in the United States in terms of gang activity and drug trafficking, which is why I introduced a comprehensive plan to promote regional security in the Americas in June. I will direct my attorney general and homeland security secretary to meet with their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in the first year of my presidency to produce a regional strategy to combat drug trafficking, domestic and transnational gang activity, and organized crime. A hemispheric pact on security, crime, and drugs will permit the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean to advance serious and measurable drug demand reduction goals, while fostering cooperation on intelligence and investigating criminal activity. The United States will also work to strengthen civilian law enforcement and judicial institutions in the region by promoting anticorruption safeguards and police reform.
I will also support the efforts of our border states to foster cooperation and constructive engagement with the region. Arizona, for instance, has entered into agreements with its neighboring Mexican state, Sonora, to cooperate on fighting border violence and drug trafficking. These agreements have led to the training of Sonora detectives to investigate wire transfers used to pay smugglers in their state; improved radio communication; and better tracking of fugitive and stolen vehicles. The Arizona-Sonora partnership—based on information sharing, technical assistance, and training—provides an excellent model for regional cooperation on security issues. An Obama-Biden administration will support these initiatives and will work to integrate these efforts into the region’s coordinated security pact.
Over the last seven years, more than 99,000 Americans have been murdered, and more than 8 million have been victims of violent crime. Violent crime has also increased in areas that traditionally didn’t see much violent crime—small to midsized cities and suburban communities. As president, what steps will you take to combat the trend of rising violent crime?
While we are rightly concerned about the new challenges we face since 9/11, we must be sure to invest in our counterterrorism efforts and our crime-fighting efforts at home. Communities across the nation are facing domestic terrorism that is as real as the foreign dangers we strive to keep from our shores. As president, I will invest not only in law enforcement but also in successful and innovative youth crime prevention programs and prisoner reentry programs. I will support initiatives such as after-school programs that keep youth out of trouble and help them to grow into law-abiding citizens. And I will support programs funded by the Second Chance Act that help ex-offenders get back on their feet and end the cycle of violence that plagues our streets and dismantles families. ■