The News Journal - Biden Outlines His Crime Initiative
Bill proposes $10 billion annually to be spent on local governments
By ANGIE BASIOUNY
U.S. Sen. Joe Biden shared details Monday about comprehensive crime-fighting legislation he is working on that would spend $10 billion a year for five years to boost community-oriented policing, fight recidivism and help capture Internet-savvy child predators.
The package of legislation promises to rival the far-reaching Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that Biden authored in 1994. That bill, known as the Biden Crime Bill, was widely credited with driving down violent crime rates as much as 30 percent nationwide during the late 1990s, partly by providing money to put more than 100,000 new cops on the street.
But Biden, a Democrat, said much of the bill's funding was "eviscerated" over the years by President Bush, whose philosophy, held by many Republicans, is that local crime is a local problem not to be solved by the federal government.
"There's a great deal at stake," Biden said. "That's why we need to return to what we know works. The Biden Crime Bill worked."
Flanked by law enforcement officers from around the state, Biden used New Castle County's new public safety headquarters in Minquadale to hold a 90-minute news conference on the program he's calling the 2007 Biden Crime Bill.
Some of the legislation has already been introduced, while other pieces are still in the works. They include:
Money for 50,000 more police officers nationwide.
Money for 1,000 more FBI agents. Since 9/11, Biden said, many agents have been diverted from helping local law enforcement to tackling homeland security issues.
$50 million for five years for the U.S. Marshals Service to help capture criminals and reduce the country's 800,000 outstanding fugitive warrants.
$230,000 for five years to identify and arrest Internet predators under the Child Exploitation Act. A companion piece of legislation would pay for background checks on those who work around children.
Creation of the Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network Act to recruit and train 100,000 lawyers to provide representation for abused and battered women.
Creation of the Badge of Bravery. Similar to the national Medal of Honor for the military, the badge would be the highest award in the nation to a law enforcement officer for an act of bravery.
While Biden is working with other legislators to drum up support and exposure for his crime-fighting bills, he did not give specific details Monday about where the funding would come from.
Second chance for convicts
Biden already has Bush's support for his Second Chance Act, which the president signed into law in April. The act is aimed at breaking the cycle of recidivism by providing drug rehabilitation, job training and housing for offenders who have served their time and been released.
Biden said Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama fully supports his ideas and will champion them if elected. Republican candidate Sen. John McCain supports most of the ideas but remains committed to the "devolution of government," with local jurisdictions tackling local problems, Biden said.
Wilmington Mayor James Baker disagreed with the notion that local crime is only a local problem, saying guns and drugs are moving across city, county and state lines.
"If that's not a national issue, I don't know what is," he said. "For them to argue they don't have a responsibility because it's local crime is ridiculous."
Biden's ideas were well-received by officials, including Baker, who attended the news conference.
Jack McDonough, chief of the U.S. Probation Office in Delaware, called the Second Chance Act the "most enlightened approach" he's seen in his 30-year career.
"It's not just a feel-good program," he said. "It's about reducing recidivism.
Carol Post, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was most excited about the volunteer attorney network to help battered women.
"We're looking at 100,000 attorneys," she said. "That's an army."
Biden said while working on the legislation he's been relying on input from top Delaware law enforcement -- especially New Castle County Police Chief Rick Gregory.
Gregory said his officers spend 75 percent of their time handling emergency calls, leaving little time to invest in community policing. He's hoping Biden's legislation will give him the money to hire more personnel.
"I think our ability to engage in outreach and prevention, and our ability to balance calls for service, are directly impacted by the number of officers that we have," Gregory said.
Biden said he believes his newest crime bill will make an impact much like the last one did.
"This really is an unrelenting problem," he said of crime. "We never beat this; we just keep it in check."