U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Bill Pascrell today visited Clifton, New Jersey, to continue their fight to keep federal funding for local community policing efforts. The Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring (COPS) Program, which provides competitive grants to help local police departments hire and keep officers on the job, was zeroed out -- de-funded -- by Republicans in the House of Representatives, while the Senate provided $200 million. As a result, a group of House and Senate members are this week charged with finalizing the Justice Department's spending bill. Menendez and Pascrell are leading an effort to ensure funding for police is restored in the final spending measure.
"Here's what I know: At a time of great economic uncertainty, cities and towns across my home state of New Jersey have been forced to furlough or lay off hundreds of police officers, making our communities less safe," said Menendez. "The need is real and the COPS program works. It puts more officers on the streets, keeping us safe. This should be a no-brainer -- we must provide as much support possible for this locally driven program, period."
"Fewer cops on the beat means more crime on our streets. The federal government needs to step in and help municipalities like Clifton, which are suffering through no fault of their own," said Pascrell, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and House Budget Committee. "I hope that later this week we'll have the chance to do the right thing and continue to support this vital program."
More than 700 police officers were let go in New Jersey just this year and there are 4,000 fewer officers today in New Jersey than there were at the end of 2009. In October, 12 communities in New Jersey received a total of $20.8 million to hire and support 78 officers for the next three years. More than 150 New Jersey localities had applied for the COPS grants.
Menendez and Pascrell were joined by Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi and Police Chief Gary Giardina at the Clifton Police Department for the press conference. Clifton applied for COPS funding this year but did not receive a grant because of the overwhelming need nationwide. While the Clifton Police Department has not been forced to lay off any officers due to the current economic downturn, economic pressures have forced it to thin its ranks through retirements. The department currently has 142 officers, down from 153. Since 1995, Clifton has received $1,275,000 in COPS funding allowing them to hire 15 officers.
A report released last month by the U.S Department of Justice's COPS office revealed that nearly 12,000 law enforcement officers will lose their jobs this year alone. Another 30,000 positions remain unfilled, and 2011 could produce the first national decline in law enforcement officer positions in the last 25 years.
Earlier this year, the House appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 did not fund the COPS office at all. The U.S. Senate appropriations bill funded the COPS office at $232 million with $200 million for COPS hiring. On November 3, House Democrats offered motion to instruct House negotiators to insist on funding the COPS program at the level set in the Senate appropriations bill. The motion passed with a vote of 265 -- 160, with 79 Republicans voting in support of the motion. Later last week, Menendez led a letter to House and Senate negotiators calling also for the funding of the COPS program at levels set by the Senate.