Science-State Justice Appropriations

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Nov. 17, 2005
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, yesterday the U.S. Senate approved the conference report to accompany H.R. 2862, the Science-State-Justice appropriations bill. I voted for this legislation because it provides critical funding for the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, I rise to explain that I am voting for this bill reluctantly because I feel that some of the funding priorities set forth in the bill will leave our communities more vulnerable to terrorist attacks traditional crime. In particular, this bill continues the wrongheaded trend of slashing Federal funding for State and local law enforcement and important criminal justice programs. This bill slashes funding for the Justice Assistance Grant and the COPS Program. And, for the first time, the Congress has decided to zero out the COPS hiring Program. I believe that this decision is a terrible mistake on so many levels, and I fear that our Nation's citizens will be less safe from traditional crime and terrorism as a result. Further, the bill slashes Federal assistance for the effective and cost-efficient drug court program by an astounding 75 percent.

Back in 1994 when we passed the legislation that created the COPS Program, our crime rates were at all-time highs. At that time, we made a commitment to our State and local law enforcement partners. During those years, we invested roughly $2.1 billion for State and local law enforcement each year and substantially upgraded our ability to combat crime. We added over 100,000 officers to patrol our neighborhoods, and we expanded crime prevention programs such as community policing programs across the Nation. What was the ultimate result? Crime rates for violent crime, murder and rape were all reduced, and today they remain at all-time lows. Many law enforcement experts and local officials credit the COPS Program for helping to achieve these results. In fact, no one, to my knowledge, with law enforcement expertise has argued otherwise. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, and other local law enforcement groups all support the COPS Program. Attorney General Ashcroft has stated that the COPS Program was a miraculous success, and Attorney General Gonzalez stated that the COPS Program put officers on the street and we reduced crime. Moreover, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that COPS hiring grants had an impact on reducing crime rates.

Why would the Congress eliminate a program that is strongly supported by local law enforcement officials and has been proven effective by statisticians at the Government Accountability Office? Well, it has its basis in ideology. Some of my Republican colleagues argue that local crime is a local problem and the Federal Government should not be funding these local efforts. I completely disagree. How can it be a local responsibility when roughly 60 percent of all the crimes committed in America relate to drugs, abuse of drugs, and the sale and trafficking of illicit drugs? These drugs are smuggled across our national borders from State to State and city to city by sophisticated drug cartels and street gangs. How does a local sheriff prevent drugs that start out in a foreign country from being trafficked into his or her county? How does a police chief prevent the recruitment of local kids into international street gangs? In my opinion, crime is a national problem, and it requires a national response. The COPS Program demonstrated the Federal Government's commitment to approach crime as a national problem--and it worked.

I would also point out that State and local law enforcement forms our first line of defense against terrorism. Homeland security experts have pointed out the value that community policing programs can have in combating terrorism. This only makes sense--it is the local officer who knows the neighborhood who will be able to provide the types information necessary to help infiltrate a local terror cell. In addition, it will be a local officer walking the beat who happens to catch a suspect trying to pump sarin gas into the local mall air-conditioning ducts. It won't be a brave Special Forces agent with night vision goggles; it will be a local cop walking the beat. In this era of uncertainty, we need to be providing more support for our local police agencies to help make their efforts against terrorism and crime as robust as possible.

And by cutting the drug court program--one of the most effective programs to reduce substance abuse in the criminal population--we are sending a devastating message to the 16,000 individuals that graduate from drug courts each year. We are telling them that we don't care that diversion programs are successful at helping people overcome addiction to reenter society as productive citizens, holding down jobs, and regaining custody of their children. We are sending a message that we would prefer to revert to the bad old days of locking up nonviolent drug offenders in prisons where most will get no drug treatment and they will most likely just sink deeper into a life of crime.

And what message are we sending to the 70,000 people currently enrolled in drug courts who are working hard to live sober, crime-free lives? By slashing funding for the drug court program we are telling them that we are not invested in their recovery and we are putting their future in drug court programs in jeopardy.

It makes absolutely no sense to me that we are cutting this cost-effective program by 75 percent. By enrolling nonviolent drug offenders in drug courts, States save an enormous amount of money. One study showed that California's drug courts save the State $18 million a year. Another study showed that every dollar spent on a drug court program saves the city of Dallas, TX, $9.43 over a 40 month period. It is inconceivable to me that we would choose to cut this program. The
National Association of Drug Court Professionals estimates that our actions here today will result in more than 13,000 individuals losing access to drug court services. These 13,000 people will likely continue their lives of crime and drugs and being a threat to public safety instead of getting enrolled in a tough-love program that will help them to turn their lives around and get sober. It is truly a tragedy.

It is my opinion that we found a winning formula when we made the decision to invest in our State and local law enforcement partners and smart on crime initiatives in the nineties, and I believe that we are making a terrible mistake when we reduce funding for them. There is no greater responsibility of the Federal Government than the protection of its citizens. This is true whether the threat comes from international terrorist or from a thug down the street, and I strongly believe that we are taking the wrong approach when we cut funding for our State and local law enforcement partners. Sheriff Ted Sexton, the president of the National Sheriffs Association, got it right when he stated that ``cuts of this magnitude will seriously inhibit our ability to protect our communities and secure the homeland.'' And, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police was correct in pointing out that ``demanding that we play a central role in our Nation's homeland security efforts, while at the same time cutting the resources we need to do our job, is both hypocritical and irresponsible.'' I hope that the Republican-led Congress and President Bush will heed the call of these brave men and women and fully fund these critical programs next year.

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