he reduction in federal homeland security grant funds allocated to Washington, D.C., and New York City recently sparked an uproar. Officials from these cities have properly expressed their concern about the impact that these cuts will have on their ability to protect their citizens. Unfortunately, it is not just citizens of Washington and New York who may suffer from budget cuts that weaken the efforts of their public safety agencies.
Law enforcement and public safety professionals throughout the United States have grown increasingly concerned about the steady reduction in funding being made available for critical assistance programs. In the past four years, funding levels for state and local homeland security and law enforcement assistance programs have been slashed by two-thirds. In the fiscal year 2004 budget, more than $4.7 billion was provided for these crucial programs. By contrast, the administration's proposed fiscal year 2007 budget called for providing just $1.5 billion, a decrease of more than $3.1 billion.
Even more shocking is the realization that in fiscal year 1997 Congress provided $2.48 billion for similar assistance programs. That means that today, nearly five years after the September 11, 2001, attacks and three years after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the administration is proposing nearly $1 billion less for security than was spent a decade ago.
Cuts of this magnitude have the potential to cripple our nation's homeland security efforts. There are currently 700,000 officers who patrol our state highways and the streets of our communities. In recent years, these officers have made tremendous strides in reducing the level of crime and violence in our communities. These officers are also uniquely situated to identify, investigate, and apprehend suspected terrorists.
This central truth has been demonstrated on numerous occasions. Incidents such as the pre-attack traffic stops of September 11 hijackers Muhammad Atta, Ziad Samir Jarrah, and Hani Hanjour clearly show that local law enforcement officers might encounter suspected terrorists in the course of their routine duties, while the arrests of Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph highlight the often critical role that local law enforcement officers play in the apprehension of terrorists.
A central element of our national homeland security strategy must be to ensure that state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies continue to have the ability to place their officers in their communities, interacting with their citizens, and investigating reports of strange or suspicious behavior. These activities are the cornerstone of any successful crime or terrorism prevention effort. A successful homeland security strategy must embrace the reality that hometown security is homeland security.
Unfortunately, in the years since 2001, as the citizens of New York and Washington are now discovering, the very programs that make such efforts possible have suffered significant budget cuts. This is both unfortunate and shortsighted, for these programs have consistently demonstrated that they are valuable and critical resources to the state, tribal, and local law enforcement community. 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.
Because of these reductions, already tight state, county, municipal, and tribal budgets have been forced to absorb the costs associated with increased training needs, overtime, and equipment purchases. Add to this the additional expenses incurred each time the national alert status is elevated and it is little wonder that local resources have been stretched to the breaking point.
For nearly five years, law enforcement agencies and officers have willingly made the sacrifices necessary to meet the challenges of fighting both crime and terrorism. They have done so because they understand the importance of what they have been asked to do, and they remain committed to fulfilling their 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.
This cannot and must not continue. If our homeland security efforts are to have any chance of succeeding, it is absolutely vital that Congress and the administration make the necessary resources available to allow law enforcement agencies to mount effective anticrime programs, which will also serve as effective antiterrorism programs.
Unfortunately, the continuing reduction of vital federal assistance programs are crippling the capabilities of law enforcement agencies nationwide and have forced many departments to take officers off the streets, leading to more crime and violence in our hometowns and ultimately less security for our homeland. ■