President’s Message: We Must Fight to Save Law Enforcement Assistance Funding

Over the last decade, the law enforcement profession has made tremendous strides in ensuring the safety of the citizens and communities we are sworn to protect. We have witnessed a steady decline in crime rates, made progress in the battle against drug abuse, improved the safety of our highways through traffic enforcement, and used technology to improve the effectiveness of our officers. Today, law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are better equipped and better staffed, and our officers are better trained than they have ever been.

But when I first read President Bush’s proposed budget for 2006 I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. Instead of building on this tremendous progress, the budget would cut funding for vital assistance programs and would weaken our ability to protect our communities from crime and terrorism.

In budget proposal released on February 7, funding levels for assistance programs that are primarily designed to help state and local law enforcement agencies were slashed by $1.467 billion compared to 2005 funding levels. These cuts would affect funding for assistance programs at both the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

Some of the most successful programs are on the chopping block, including the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program. (In fiscal year 2005 Congress and the Bush administration combined the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program with the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program to create the JAG Program.) These programs have helped state, local, tribal, and university law enforcement agencies to increase their capabilities and improve their effectiveness. These programs have strengthened the core capabilities of police agencies and improved their crime-fighting efforts. In the latest suggested cuts, the Bush administration would cut funding for the COPS program by 80 percent (a reduction of $488 million) and completely eliminate the JAG program (a cut of $634 million) in the fiscal year 2006 budget.

Significantly, these proposed reductions continue a recent trend in funding cuts for these vital programs. Over the past four years, funding levels have dropped more than $1.2 billion, or 50 percent. If the fiscal year 2006 budget is enacted as proposed, it would represent cuts of more than $2.3 billion, or 90 percent, since fiscal year 2002.

These cuts are having a dramatic impact on the ability of law enforcement agencies to meet their responsibilities. For example, because of budget constraints in one California city, the police department has been forced to reduce its staff by 24 police officers and 28 civilian employees. In addition, the department has been forced to eliminate its DARE program, its street crimes unit, and its commercial enforcement unit. It had to reduce its gang task force by 33 percent, its narcotics task force by 25 percent, and its crime lab by 66 percent.

This is unacceptable. Police budgets are under tremendous pressure already from skyrocketing energy and health insurance costs, and law enforcement assistance programs have become the last reasonable resource to provide any growth, development, or enhancement to accomplish even our basic mission, not to mention additional responsibilities for homeland defense and community safety.

In the coming months, the IACP will be doing all that 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. We will drive home the message that funding for our nation’s law enforcement agencies is an issue that must be viewed as separate and apart from politics.

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.