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Letter to Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Chair Barbara Mikulski and Ranking Member Richard Shelby - Urging Investment in Key Program to Fight Crime in Washington State, U.S.

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) led a bipartisan coalition of 48 senators in support of continued investment in a crucial tool for Washington state law enforcement in their efforts to address crime, drug trafficking and gangs.

The coalition, in a letter sent Friday to Senate appropriators, requested that funding be maintained in the fiscal year 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program. This key program helps states and communities across the country reduce crime, prevent juvenile delinquency and reduce recidivism.

For fiscal year 2012, the most recent year for which data on Byrne JAG funding allocations has been compiled, top Washington state recipients include: the City of Seattle, Pierce County, the City of Tacoma, the City of Spokane, the City of Vancouver, Yakima County/City of Yakima, the City of Everett, Snohomish County, and Kitsap County. Click here for the funding breakdown. These funds support a wide range of law-enforcement operations, ranging from drug and gang task forces to the purchase of equipment such as riot protection gear.

"It is clear to us that the strong foundation of federal, state, and local partnerships built from the Byrne JAG program remains as vital as ever," wrote the Senators in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. "Byrne JAG-funded programs facilitate cross-governmental intelligence and information sharing on terror and criminal threats, drug and human trafficking organizations and sexual predators. This collaboration is essential to address today's criminal networks that cross city, state and even international boundaries.

"With over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., cross-jurisdictional learning and coordination cannot happen effectively without federal support," the Senators continued in the letter. "We know of your steadfast commitment to the Byrne JAG program in years past, and we ask for your continued support in the fiscal year 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill."

In Washington state, Byrne JAG investments have been used to continue vital law enforcement programs that go after criminal gangs and facilitate drug treatment during a time when local and state budgets for law enforcement officials and prosecutors across the state have been cut. These grants can be used for state and local initiatives, technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and criminal justice information systems.

Yakima County has used its Byrne JAG grants to suppress illegal drugs and criminal gangs by the partial funding of law enforcement officers and prosecution. The investments help coordinate successful programs and strategies between the county, its 14 cities and towns, and the Yakama Indian Reservation. Future grants will continue to fund the Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) Narcotics and Gangs Task Force so that area law enforcement agencies and the county prosecutor can maximize their local resources and organize operations.

In Snohomish County, Byrne JAG grants have consistently been used to aid the Snohomish Regional Drug & Gang Task Force. Between 2008 and 2012, these investments were used to support operations that led to the seizure of more than 78,000 grams of cocaine and more than 35,000 grams of methamphetamine. During that time, the Task Force made 886 drug arrests in Snohomish County.

"With sequestration forcing budget cuts at every level, funds from the Byrne grant are needed now more than ever," said Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick. "Our communities depend on these funds to help law enforcement fight crime and to help courts find justice for victims of crime. From protecting the children in our schools from violence to preventing seniors from becoming victims of fraud, Byrne grant funds improve the quality of life for all of our citizens."

In Benton and Franklin counties, Byrne JAG grants support the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force, which is dedicated to the disruption of narcotic trafficking, illegal gun sales and gang activity in the region. In 2012, these investments were used to support operations that led to 91 arrests and seizures of more than 3,000 grams of methamphetamine and more than 1.3 million grams of poppies.

"The Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force is a collaboration of local efforts which started in 1988 and is primarily funded through federal assistance," said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg. "Federal support is more crucial now than ever in combating violence in our communities due to criminal gangs and their involvement in dealing drugs to support their efforts. Senator Cantwell continues to lead our efforts in bringing federal resources and funding to our communities to support our crime fighting in the area of violence and criminal gang activity."

"Byrne JAG grants are key for local law enforcement agencies to maintain law enforcement programs and purchase equipment that agencies may otherwise be unable to obtain," said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. "Byrne JAG funding is often combined with local funds to provide these essential services which benefit the community."

"JAG allows the City of Vancouver to improve public safety, criminal justice, and law enforcement operations and efficiency by funding critical police equipment and technology that our City's local budget simply cannot fund," said Kim Kapp, Vancouver Police Department Public Information Coordinator. "JAG equipment and technology investments are helping us improve the effectiveness and efficiency of local criminal justice operations in Vancouver."

In Pierce County Byrne JAG grants support local anti-gang and drug units as well as domestic violence prosecutions during a time when budgets for law enforcement officials and prosecutors across the state have been cut. These grants can be used for state and local initiatives, technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and criminal justice information systems. But investments in the program have been reduced by over one-third in the past few years.

"In Pierce County, Byrne JAG grants support the prosecution of gang crimes, drug crimes, and domestic violence offenders during a time when budgets for law enforcement officials and prosecutors across the state have been cut," said Mark Lindquist, Pierce County Prosecutor. "Our Gang Unit has convicted hundreds of violent gang members, earned long prison sentences, and reduced gang crimes by over 70 percent in our county. Our community is safer thanks to support from the Byrne JAG grants."

The Byrne JAG program is a partnership among federal, state and local governments that tailors federal law enforcement grants to the needs of different communities. It supports a broad range of activities to prevent and control crime and improve the criminal justice system that include: law enforcement programs; prosecution and court programs; prevention and education programs; corrections and community corrections programs; drug treatment programs; and planning, evaluation and technology improvement programs.

The procedure for allocating Byrne JAG grants is based on a formula of population and violent crime statistics, in combination with a minimum allocation to ensure that each state and territory receives an appropriate share of investments. Sixty percent of Byrne JAG grants are allocated to states which then provide the funding to innovative programs in local communities. The remaining 40 percent is provided directly to communities via a statewide competitive grant process. Click here to see a breakdown of funding for communities across Washington state during fiscal year 2012.

The letter to Senate appropriators was signed by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), William Cowan (D-MA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Max Baucus (D-MT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Al Franken (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Robert Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Angus King (I-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), James Inhofe (R-OK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Cantwell has long fought for federal programs that provide support to local law enforcement to fight crime in Washington communities. She has been a leading supporter of the Byrne JAG program. In 2011 and 2012, Cantwell led bipartisan letters calling for robust funding for the Byrne JAG program. In 2005 she called on then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to launch an investigation into gang related meth trafficking in the Washington state area. In 2006 Cantwell led the charge to pass the Combat Meth Act and secured $99 million for state and local law enforcement agencies to combat the problem.

The complete text of the letter sent on Friday follows.

April 26, 2013

The Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski
Chairwoman
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Senate Committee on Appropriations
142 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Richard C. Shelby
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Senate Committee on Appropriations
125 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby:

We write to thank you for your support of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, and ask that you maintain funding for the program in the fiscal year 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill.

As thoughtful stewards of taxpayer money, we must continually assess where federal support is necessary and appropriate. It is clear to us that the strong foundation of federal, state, and local partnerships built from the Byrne JAG program remains as vital as ever.

One of the highest responsibilities of government is to protect its citizens and ensure public safety. Increasingly, regional, national and international gangs and drug trafficking organizations are driving the crime on our streets, pushing out across the states, and embedding deeper into our rural communities. Byrne JAG-funded programs facilitate cross-governmental intelligence and information sharing on terror and criminal threats, drug and human trafficking organizations and sexual predators. This collaboration is essential to address today's criminal networks that cross city, state and even international boundaries.

Nationwide, the crime rate is at its lowest level since the 1960s due in part to advances in policing, information technology, offender management, and cross-jurisdictional coordination supported by the Byrne JAG program. Federal support for Byrne JAG and state and local law enforcement is our first line of defense against criminals and the Byrne JAG program is vital in combating crimes of all types.

Through Byrne JAG, the Department of Justice (DOJ) plays a crucial role in spurring innovation and testing cost-effective, evidence-based approaches to fighting crime. With over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., cross-jurisdictional learning and coordination cannot happen effectively without federal support.

Furthermore, crime prevention and control can be truly successful only when the criminal justice system is in balance, with all of the parts functioning effectively. Byrne JAG's flexibility allows state and local governments to target their most pressing needs in law enforcement, prevention, pretrial services and treatment, courts, corrections, crime victims' services, prosecution and defense, and post-incarceration reentry services. Byrne JAG also leverages the massive investment that already occurs regularly in these programs at the state and local level.

We know of your steadfast commitment to the Byrne JAG program in years past, and we ask for your continued support in the fiscal year 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill.

Sincerely,


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