Senators Biden and Specter Hold Judiciary Hearing in Delaware
Wilmington, DE - Today, U.S. Senators Joe Biden, Jr. (D-DE), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Arlen Specter (R-PA), the Committee's chairman, convened an official committee hearing in Wilmington, Delaware in an effort to better determine the effects of massive cuts in federal funding to local law enforcement agencies.
"For the first time in five years, the violent crime rate is up, and last year, the murder rate increased by the biggest percentage in 15 years," said Senator Biden. "A little more than a decade ago, our country faced a similar national crisis with respect to violent crimes. Back then, we realized that the only way to seriously address crime in our communities would be to vigorously and consistently support local law enforcement. To that end, we passed the most sweeping anti-crime bill in this nation's history, and created the Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS), a law that allowed us to hire 118,000 new officers nationwide. And it worked - crime rates went down every year for eight years. Even the most skeptical among us began to see the utility of the program: former Attorney General John Ashcroft once called the COPS program a miraculous success.'"
"But with all of that success - inconceivably - the Administration has systematically eliminated this program," continued Senator Biden. "In the upcoming fiscal year alone, President Bush proposed cutting $2 billion in funding for local law enforcement. And, to make matter worse, the FBI is necessarily transitioning from crime to counter-terrorism, leaving 1,000 fewer FBI agents working on criminal cases than before September 11, 2001."
To better understand the ramifications of these cuts in funding and the shift of federal resources to counter-terrorism, Senators Biden and Specter took testimony from several local law enforcement experts including: Jim Kane, Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Council of Delaware; Chief Jeffery Horvath from the Dover Police Department; James Mosley, Director of Public Safety for the City of Wilmington; and Master Corporal Vince DiSabatino, President of the Delaware Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
All of the witnesses testified that reduced federal resources have made combating local crime increasingly more difficult.
"The law enforcement community is behind the eight ball," said Vince DiSabatino, President of the Delaware FOP and a Wilmington Police Officer. "We find that our local governments do not have the resources, money, personnel and equipment they need With manpower and staffing so low, the luxury of preventative patrolling and the idea of community policing is all but lost."
Chief Jeffrey Horvath from the Dover Police Department testified that six of the ten new officers sworn in since he took over as Chief in 2001, were Biden Crime Law officers, funded through the COPS program. Two of the officers were assigned to be School Resource Officers in the Capital School District. "These officers have arrested drug dealers and had them removed from schools. They have confiscated dangerous weapons and they have prevented acts of violence in the hallways and on the playground. Without those funds, we would not be as effective as we are today."
At the hearing, Senator Biden also released a new report entitled: "Abandoning the Front Line: The Federal Government's Responsibility to help Fight Crime in Our Communities." In the report, Senator Biden lays out some of the problems local law enforcement agencies face due to these massive cuts in federal support and proposes steps he believes could help reduce crime and alleviate some of this burden. Among his recommendations:
o Full funding for the Office of Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) and the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. For years, COPS was fully funded at $1.2 billion per year and the Justice Assistance Grant at $900 million. In his 2007 budget request, the President allocated only $102 million for these programs combined. Congress should resist the request and fully fund these programs.
o Restore the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program and ensure that the grants address the needs of local law enforcement. The President's 2007 Budget request eliminates the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program which sets aside critical homeland security funding exclusively for prevention efforts. This program should be restored and Congress should ensure sufficient flexibility to allow local agencies to address personnel problems such as over-time and hiring.
o Immediately Hire 1,000 new FBI agents. Since September 11, 2001, the FBI has moved roughly 1,000 of its agents from working on criminal cases to terrorism prevention. We should immediately hire 1,000 new agents to ensure that FBI reforms can be implemented without abandoning local crime.