Law Enforcement's Greatest Friend in the U.S. Senate
Sen. Biden Accepts Award from The National Association of Police OrganizationsWashington, DC
Thanks for that kind introduction. For thirty years I've been trying to understand how it is that we can ask so much of our cops and yet give them so little support. Now more than ever we need you and you need our full and unconditional support. Sometimes it's a fight, but we're not ones to back down from a fight.
It's great to be with NAPO again with all of you. And to be recognized with this award is humbling to say the least. I can't tell you how much it means to me and I'm honored.
All those times I've met with you, all those times you came to my office and talked about what you needed in the way of funding and programs to keep doing the best job you couldall those hours we spent figuring out how to get the COPS program off the dime. Those were times well spent. They paid off for you and for the country.
And by the way, nobody can tell me we're not better off when there's another cop on the beat. Nobody can tell me that we can't make a difference if we just listen to what you tell us you need, and then do the best we can to make it happen. It's a no-brainer.
Anyway, thank you again for this award. I sincerely mean that. And for all of your support. It's great to know that you think I've been there for you - but believe me - you make me look good.
The only reason we had any success getting the COPS program in the first place - and then saving it - is because of you.
I can assure you that when you speak Washington listens. I don't think I've seen my colleagues on the other side of the aisle move so fast as when they hear from their local police officers who say, we need this funding - don't mess with it. Believe me, they listen to you!
Let's talk about crime for a minute. Let's talk about Homeland Security and about the debate in Washington now about the budget, the tax cuts, and the deficits that threaten the progress we've been able to make.
I'm sick about it.
Look, tax cuts are easy, and there are many who say the hell with everything and just keep cutting taxes. Great, but what about homeland security? What about the need to modernize and upgrade your equipment and putting well trained, well equipped cops on the street.
What about it? How do we get there if the only thing we believe in is tax cuts even as everyone is looking for increased security to keep their kids safe when they walk out the door.
Look, I'm with you. And you've been with me, standing shoulder-to-shoulder to make things happen over the years.
I remember back in the early nineties you were there then for the Biden Crime Bill. You had a seat at my conference table when we put the COPS program together as part of that 1994 Crime Bill.
You were there for the 63 officers who died on September 11th. It was NAPO who came to me and said, "Joe, the death benefit the Justice Department pays just isn't enough for the sons and daughters and wives and husbands left behind. They can't make ends meet." You told me that payment needed to be doubled, and we were able to get that done in the USA
I was so pleased to be able to stand with you and get that bill passed. But now we're facing huge deficits as far out as the eye can see. I'd by lying if I didn't say the pie is shrinking, and the tax cuts aren't going to help.
Let's talk about crime because the proof is in the pudding.
NAPO deserves a lot of credit for the crime drop of the nineties. When we created the COPS program in 1994 crime rates were pretty high. We ended up giving over 8 billion dollars to local police departments. Since 1994, we've funded 117,000 new cops.
The result? Crime dropped almost thirty percent from 1994 to 2000. There's no magic here. You made our streets safer and it was a heroic effort.
But mark my words: the current climate, both nationally and internationally, creates the conditions for a "perfect storm" for local law enforcement created by the budget cuts, the new homeland security responsibilities we're asking you to assume, and the end to the crime drop of the nineties.
Let me take that last point first. Crime rates are, in fact, going up again.
Last December, the FBI announced a two percent increase in crime from 2000 to 2001.
Violent crime was up 0.8 percent - the first increase in violent crime in a decade.
Murder was up two percent, property crime was up 2%, burglaries were up 3%.
Car theft - a crime that's often the work of professional criminals - jumped a full six percent.
I'll make you a prediction: when the FBI announces the 2002 numbers later this year, we're going to get more bad news.
The leading indicators from around the country are not good. The homicide rate in California's major cities jumped 11 percent in 2002.
Here in DC the murder rate is up from last year. In Chicago 2002 murders are expected to top 2001's levels. New York City is seeing a record number of bank robberies this year.
Is it a surprise? No. These crime hikes are not entirely unexpected. We all know that crime tends to follow economic and demographic conditions.
There's a recent study that says that a record number, over 2 million people, are in jail in the U.S. But buried in that study it says that, in nine states, prison releases outpaced prison admissions last year.
Those nine states include the four with the biggest prison populations: Texas, California, New York and Illinois.
Why is that a red flag? Because you know and I know that released prisoners are more likely to reoffend than the general public.
Put simply, today's demographics mean we could have more potential criminals walking our streets than in years past and that means your job gets tougher.
As far as the impact of budget cuts on what you do, it's obvious. You can't do more with less. Police departments are feeling the pinch. I saw one report last month that said that of the 44 biggest police departments in the country, 27 face personnel shortfalls. That's more than half.
I know that St. Louis has lost 168 officers from its high water mark for police employment in 2000.
Los Angeles has lost 570 officers from 2000 levels. Detroit has lost 224. Boston - 84 fewer cops than in 2000. After thirty years of studying this issue, there's one thing I know for sure about crime: If you've got an intersection with cops on three corners, crooks will go to the fourth corner to commit their crime. Fewer cops means more crime, and I'm extremely concerned your departments are being squeezed.
Then comes the kicker. Since 9/11, you now have to do a hell of a lot more than just walk the beat. You're expected to know how to respond to a chemical attack. You're expected to do intelligence work in some cases. And my friend Bob Mueller, the FBI Director, has pulled FBI agents out of local crime fighting task forces.
Five hundred eighteen have been reassigned from street crime and drug-fighting to counterterrorism. Don't just take my word for it. Here in Washington, the head of the DEA's field office is publicly questioning whether the FBI's personnel realignment has left a void in the city's drug enforcement efforts. It's a problem we're going to be hearing about nationwide.
When Tom Ridge changes the color, you need to know what to do. Be vigilant, they say. Just not on their nickel, apparently.
Why do I say that? Well, look at what the President has proposed for local law enforcement since taking office. In his first budget, the President asked Congress to end the COPS hiring program. Mission completed, he said. But we heard your call and we rejected his cuts.
Last year the President proposed an even more radical law enforcement budget. Completely end COPS, completely end the Byrne program, completely end the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program, he said. I'll replace all of those with a new grant, but I'll cut your overall funds by 40% in the process.
But it's not really a cut, he said, because you all can access the new 3.5 billion dollars in first responder money.
Give me a break. I'd call that robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Again we heard your call and we took a look at that budget and rejected it again. We wouldn't let them take your money so we restored the cuts to COPS, Byrne, and the Block Grant.
This year they're at it again. Police don't need help with salaries, overtime, and equipment purchases, the Administration says.
No, we're going to end those programs, evidence that they help cut crime be damned, and instead we're going to make you jump through hoops with your governor to get the money. And by the way, there are strings attached to the first responder money: Not one dime of the billions proposed can be used to add a new shield to the streets.
How many of you have seen any first responder funds in your departments yet?
I didn't think so. I'm not questioning the Administration's motives - they want to do the right thing. But their blind insistence on ending what works to pay for a first responder block grant makes no sense.
We should be doing both. Clearly there are training and equipment needs for first responders, needs that in many instances it does make sense to coordinate through governor's offices. But those programs should not be paid for on your backs.
COPS works. Studies indicate those hiring grants, and the work you are able to do because of them, directly contribute to cutting crime.
Your Executive Director Bill Johnson testified at a series of hearings my Crime Subcommittee held last year.
It was during those hearings that I released a study showing that COPS grants contributed to the significant drop in crime rates in the nation's 55 largest cities from 1994 through 2000.
COPS technology grants make you more effective. The Byrne program and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program fund drug-fighting task forces, pay for prevention programs, and provide you with the flexibility you need to tailor Federal programs to fit local needs. We shouldn't be cutting them. We should be full funding them.
As recently as last year, the nation's "top cop", Attorney General Ashcroft, sang the praises of the COPS program. "A miraculous success," he called it. But the Administration doesn't put its money where its mouth is. They've cut law enforcement funds by nearly 40 percent.
Let me tell you a few things we can do.
First, you can keep up the good work you have done on my COPS bill. I introduced that bill a few weeks ago. It would continue COPS for six more years and provide enough funds to hire 50,000 more officers.
It would let COPS fund pay for overtime, something we're going to do this year for the first time. We should make that permanent. Thanks to you the bill has 46 cosponsors. I need a few more, so please keep asking your Senators to add their name.
You need to tell the Senators and Representatives who sit on the Appropriations Committees that these cuts are unacceptable. Tell Senator Gregg - he chairs the Justice Department appropriations subcommittee - that COPS works and that you still need it.
Tell him that first responder block grants to the governors are no substitute for police hiring, overtime, and technology grants made directly to your departments.
If they won't do the right thing in the appropriations committees, I think we will have to have this fight on the Senate floor this summer. So when I come to you asking to support my amendment to restore these cuts, I hope you'll do what you've always done and answer the call.
We also need to do something about all these prisoners being released. "Prisoner reentry" the experts call it.
I'm working on a bill that will help ease this transition back into society, and cut crime in the process. If you've got any suggestions, I'm listening.
So in short, friends, we face challenging times ahead for law enforcement. I will be working here to make sure you aren't forgotten in the brave new world of homeland security. Most folks are still more likely to be mugged in the mall parking lot than be attacked by an Al Qaeda terrorist.
I will keep reminding my colleagues what worked in cutting crime over the past decade. We need to keep doing what works.
I've always said, and you've probably heard me say it. Cutting crime is a lot like cutting the grass. You can mow your lawn on Saturday and it looks great. But if you don't keep at it, the grass will be back up a few weeks later. If we don't keep the focus on crime in America, it's going to come back up.
Thanks again for your support over the years. I think we have time for a few questions.