Biden Releases Crime Report: Abandoning the Front Line. The Federal Government's Responsibility to Help Fight Crime in Our Communities

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Sept. 22, 2006
Location: Unknown


Biden Releases Crime Report: Abandoning the Front Line. The Federal Government's Responsibility to Help Fight Crime in Our Communities

ABANDONING THE FRONT LINE

The Federal Government's Responsibility to Help Fight Crime in Our Communities

A Report by Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. September 2006

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

MISSING: $2 BILLION FOR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

President Bush has slashed funding for local law enforcement by more than $2 billion since he took office. As a result, local agencies throughout the nation are experiencing officer shortages and are being required to cut back on critical crime and terrorism prevention programs even though a robust police presence in our neighborhoods is important more now than ever.

CASE FOR COPS

• More COPS equals less crime. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that hiring grants from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) reduce crime. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft called the program a "miraculous success." Through the COPS office we have put over 118,000 new community policing officers on the street in 13,400 communities. Ten percent of the total drop in crime from 1993 to 1998 was attributable to COPS expenditures. • Local law enforcement is a necessary tool to fight terrorism. Cops on the beat know their neighborhoods. They are in the best position to collect the information that federal agencies need to forecast the next attack. • State and local law enforcement are being asked to do more with less. Federal law enforcement resources have been shifted toward the war on terror. As a result, fewer FBI agents are available to investigate drug dealing and violent crime. Local law enforcement must fill this gap. Instead of building up their forces to meet this challenge, many cities facing budget shortfalls are forced to lay-off police officers and eliminate innovative crime prevention techniques like community policing. For example, in the past three years Philadelphia has taken 600 officers off the street. WANTED • 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. • 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.

I. INTRODUCTION

For the first time in five years the violent crime rate is up. It is no accident that last year murder rates increased by the biggest percentage in 15 years. For Fiscal Year 2007, the Bush Administration proposed cutting $2 billion in guaranteed funding for local law enforcement and completely eliminated funding to hire new officers under the Community Oriented Policing Services Program (COPS). I have often said that keeping crime rates low is like cutting the grass. You mow your lawn and it looks great. You let it grow for a week and it starts to look a little ragged. Let it grow for a month and you've got a jungle. We are starting to see a jungle. The FBI's recently released 2005 preliminary Uniform Crime Report taken from the front lines -- statistics of more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies across our country -- reveals troubling trends. Murders are up 4.8 percent, which means there were 16,900 victims in 2005. Violent crime more generally, which includes forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, rose 2.5 percent. Hardest hit are medium-large size towns -- not just big cities. The 670,000 brave men and women of state and local law enforcement form our first line of defense against crime and terrorism. They go out into our nation's communities and neighborhoods every day with one purpose: to keep Americans safe. With the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the federal government made a commitment to assist them in their efforts. We funded 118,000 new officers in 13,400 communities, expanded the concept of community policing, placed a strong emphasis on prevention programs, and took a hard line on violent criminals by strengthening penalties and building prisons. Through this federal, state and local partnership we pushed crime rates from historic highs to the lowest levels in a generation. And, by making a commitment to our state and local partners, we helped create more robust police agencies nationwide - in large and small cities. For example, New York City hired 4,700 officers with COPS grants since 1995; Philadelphia has hired 1,200 officers since 1995; and Charlotte, North Carolina has hired 188 officers. The nation witnessed the bravery of our local first responders after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. This national tragedy placed a spotlight on the courage that these men and women exhibit every day, but it also delivered a serious reminder that to ensure our safety, we must give our first responders the tools they need to do the job. In the aftermath of 9/11 we began to ask much more of our local police forces. Initially, we all committed to provide the resources necessary to protect the homeland. But from some corners, this commitment was short-lived. In fact, since 2001 federal funding guaranteed for state and local law enforcement has been slashed by billions of dollars. In his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush expressed his support for local law enforcement, stating that "[w]e'll increase funding to help states and communities train and equip our heroic police and firefighters." Less than a week later, he released a budget slashing federal support. This Administration has failed to keep its commitment to state and local law enforcement.

II. THE 1994 CRIME BILL

Just over a decade ago, we faced a national crisis with respect to violent crime. Despite the tough-on-crime rhetoric of the 1980's, the federal government had very little impact on crime rates. This is because only about 3 percent of all crimes are handled by the federal government. The only way to seriously address crime in our communities is consistent support for state and local law enforcement. In 1994, we made a historic commitment to do just that. The primary component of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was the creation of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) together with a commitment to put 100,000 new officers on the street and to expand the concept of community oriented policing. State and local law enforcement officials across the nation have praised the COPS initiative. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft called the program a "miraculous success." One of his chief deputies testified that "it is undoubted that more police officers on the street deter more crime, and, therefore, it would lessen social cost to the local communities and our overall society." The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in October 2005 that concluded what many experts have known all along - the COPS program helps reduce crime. Specifically, the GAO found that "as a demonstration of whether a federal program can affect crime rates through hiring officers and changing policing practices, the evidence indicates that COPS contributed to declines in crime above the levels of declines that would have been expected without it." For every one dollar in COPS hiring grant expenditures per capita, there was a reduction of almost 30 index crimes per 100,000 persons. The results of the COPS program are clear: crime rates went down every year for eight consecutive years; violent crime was reduced by 26 percent; and the murder rate dropped by 34 percent. In just a few short years, Americans went from being afraid to go out on their streets to living in the safest neighborhoods in a generation. By giving state and local law enforcement the support they needed, we were able to improve the lives of millions of Americans.

III. DWINDLING FEDERAL RESOURCES FOR STATE AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

The Bush administration has forgotten the lesson we learned from the COPS program. During the nineties, we learned that balancing prevention measures with tough punitive measures reduced crime. In addition, we learned that robust local police departments helped our response capabilities. Despite these successes, President Bush has systematically eliminated the programs that helped to lay the foundation for low crime rates. President Bush has cut support for state and local law enforcement every year for the past five years. According to many law enforcement experts, de-funding these programs, combined with budget deficits at the state and local level, has resulted in the elimination of successful crime prevention programs. For example, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has been forced to eliminate community policing programs. My home town of Wilmington, Delaware has had to reduce its Safe Streets program, which combines local officers with juvenile probation officers into teams that patrol hot spots to get dangerous juveniles off of the street. This is an unfortunate trend throughout the nation, and, as a result, we are beginning to see troubling crime trends and increased gang activity. In response to the latest budget request, the President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Mary Ann Viverette stated that "these cuts have the potential to cripple the capabilities of law enforcement agencies nationwide and will undoubtedly 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." 1. Eliminating COPS The President's first budget submission, in 2001, eliminated nearly all funding for hiring local officers under the COPS program. Unfortunately, this wrong-headed agenda has continued into his second term. Funding has steadily declined for Department of Justice programs designed to assist state and local law enforcement from a high of $2.1 billion throughout the nineties to a proposed level of only $102 million in FY 2007. Of this $102 million, not one single dime is allocated for hiring officers. Over the past four years, COPS hiring funding has been decimated. During the 1990s roughly $1 billion per year was allocated to hiring officers. In 2002, $385 million was allocated to hire officers. That allocation was steadily reduced until last year when, for the first time, funding to hire officers was completely eliminated.

2. The Rise and Fall of the Justice Assistance Grant Throughout the nineties, we invested roughly $900 million per year in the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant (Byrne) and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grants (LLEBG). Although funds under these programs were distributed in different ways and for different purposes, they were available to state and local governments to improve their criminal justice systems, reduce violent crime, or reduce illegal drug use. The Bush Administration repeatedly requested that Congress consolidate the Byrne Grants and the LLEBG into one grant program, the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG). The purported rationale for the new program was to streamline the grant making process. However, some argued that the reason for the requested consolidation was that it is easier to cut one program than two. Congress resisted this approach for several years, but in FY 2005 the JAG program was created. It was promptly cut by $91 million. The following year, in 2006, the JAG grant was slashed in half to $321 million. This year the President has requested that the program be eliminated in its entirety, arguing that it has not been proven effective at reducing crime. According to the National Sheriffs Association, the elimination of the combined JAG program would "severely inhibit the capabilities of our nation's sheriffs and risks putting our communities in danger of increased crime and drug use."

3. Funds from the Department of Homeland Security Do Not Focus on Prevention The Bush Administration routinely argues that cuts to Department of Justice programs are compensated by grants from the Department of Homeland Security. To be sure, the Department of Homeland Security is providing roughly $2.5 billion in grants for state and local purposes. However, these grants serve a wide range of uses, and only a small portion of this total has been set aside for local enforcement. In prior years, the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP) carved out $400 million from the state and local grants to go specifically for prevention activities - local law enforcement. In the President's 2007 budget request, the Terrorism Prevention Program is eliminated, and, as a result, not one dime from the Department of Homeland Security is specifically set aside for local law enforcement. The bottom line is that overall federal funding guaranteed for our front-line defenders is at an all time low. This is simply an unacceptable budget priority and more significantly, this agenda jeopardizes the safety of Americans from coast to coast, leaving us all more vulnerable to petty criminals, gangs or international terrorists.

IV. STEADY INCREASE IN CRIME Not surprisingly, as the number of police on the beat has dropped, slowly but surely the number of gangs, drug traffickers and career criminals on those same streets has risen. In June, the FBI released the Preliminary Uniform Crime Report for 2005 - the gold standard of crime reports in our country, taken from statistics submitted by more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies all across our country. The report's findings are sobering. Murders are up 4.8 percent. This means that there were 16,900 victims in 2005 - 16,900 citizens in a single year. This is the most murders since 1998 and the largest percentage increase in 15 years. Violent crime more generally, which includes forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, rose 2.5 percent after seeing unprecedented decreases over the last three years. Some areas of the country were especially hard hit. The Midwest, for example, saw violent crime rise 5.7 percent. Medium-large towns - those with populations between half-a-million and 1 million - saw an increase in violent crime of 8.3 percent. Murders increased more than 12 percent in towns with populations between 50,000 and 250,000. This month, the Department of Justice circulated another influential crime measure, the National Crime Victimization Survey, which found that Americans were robbed and victimized by gun violence at greater rates than last year. Specifically, the rate of firearm violence increased between 2004 and 2005 from 1.4 to 2.0 victimizations per 1,000 people - a 43 percent increase. Experts say that these findings support reports from the FBI and many mayors and police chiefs that violent crime is beginning to rise after a long decline. One criminologist accurately argued that while statistics show a decline in more numerous, less serious offenses (like simple assault), the accompanying increase in severe crimes is not a worthwhile trade-off. A snapshot of crime rates and crime spending in major U.S. cities makes plain the direct connection between dwindling federal resources and climbing crime rates. For instance, in Cleveland, from 1994-2001, the federal government spent $3,200,000 per year for COPS hiring. From 2002-05, Congress only spent $875,500 per year. A 2004 news article noted that Cleveland lost 250 officers, a reduction of 15 percent in their force. In the state's latest crime numbers, murder is up 38 percent and violent crime 7 percent. In St. Louis a similar story emerges. From 1994-2001, the federal government spent $770,000 per year for COPS hiring. From 2002-05 that number was $0. A 2003 study found that St. Louis had lost 168 officers; a reduction of 11 percent in their force. In the state's latest crime numbers, murder is up 16 percent and violent crime up 20 percent. Even closer to home, in Philadelphia, from 1994-2001, the federal government spent $5,250,000 per year for COPS hiring. From 2002-05 that number was again $0. Last year at a Congressional hearing, the Philadelphia police chief testified that since 2003 the Department lost 600 officers. In Philadelphia's latest crime numbers, murder is up 14.2 percent and violent crime is up 3.4 percent.

These dramatic, troubling crime statistics should serve as a wake-up call to Congress and the President.

V. RECOMMENDATIONS Law enforcement faces unprecedented challenges. As anyone who has been to an airport since 9/11 knows, state and local officers are undertaking many new homeland security duties. In addition, the FBI is shifting resources to the war against terrorism and away from traditional crime investigations like bank robberies and drug trafficking. Local law enforcement will be required to fill this gap. It is critical that we provide them with the necessary resources to fight crime and secure the homeland. Fortunately, an investment in state and local law enforcement can help us achieve both goals. Indeed, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution recently stated that "before we conclude [that] a healthy sense of creativity at the CIA is our most important weapon against terrorism, we should remember the most basic tools of the trade such as strong local law enforcement agencies also are imperative." The community policing model is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism. Local officers know their neighborhoods and are in the best position to "'collect' the dots that federal agencies need to ‘connect' to forecast the next attack." Since 9/11, I have advocated the local officers' role in the war against terrorism. We have learned that terrorist cells are active within our borders. We need boots-on-the-ground, neighborhood intelligence to discover and eliminate these cells. We must re-create the federal, state, and local partnership that was so effective in reducing crime rates in the nineties. We can do this by ensuring that we have sufficient officers on the beat with specialized training. I recommend, at minimum: 1. Congress fully fund the Office of Community Oriented Services (COPS) at the authorized level: $1.05 billion per year. 2. Congress fully fund Justice Assistance Grant: $900 million per year. 3. Congress restores the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program: $500 million per year. 4. Create a Homeland Security and Public Safety Trust Fund to ensure that local law enforcement and first responders are given the resources they need to do their job. By no means can we limit ourselves to focusing on funding for state and local law enforcement. We must continue to legislate to prevent crime at the federal level: • We must continue to work to better protect our children, as we have done by enacting the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act earlier this year, uniting 50 states in common purpose and in league with one another to prevent low-life sexual predators from slipping through the cracks; • We must work to prevent recidivism, exploring the best ways to keep ex-offenders from returning to a life of crime, as I am currently doing with the Second Chance Act, which has 34 co-sponsors and is now before the Senate; • We must confront the continuing scourge of drug abuse and related crimes, most notably the recent explosion in the distribution and use of methamphetamine, through innovative programs such as the Drug Enforcement Agency's Mobile Enforcement Team, which deployed to Wilmington last year. • We must hire 1,000 new FBI agents to ensure that the FBI has the manpower and resources to provide critical assistance to local law enforcement in criminal cases, even as it continues to transition to a counter-terror mission. • Keeping our homes safe is as important as keeping our streets secure, so in the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 passed last year we redouble our efforts to tackle the "dirty secret" of domestic violence with coordinated community responses, put a stop to high-tech stalkers, treat children who witness spousal abuse, and promote violence prevention among our teenagers.

VI. CONCLUSION Make no mistake, our security is the national priority. In the early 1990s, many thought there was little we could do to reduce the gang murders and the random attacks that were reported in the news every evening. At that time, we put our faith in and resources behind local law enforcement. It worked, and we helped make America a safer place. Today, we face a daunting yet similar challenge to our safety, and, once again, I believe the solution lies with our state and local partners. We must reaffirm our commitment to our state and local law enforcement; we must provide the federal resources they need to do the work that is so vital to our nation's well-being.

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