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The Case for COPS Funding: Sustaining a Strong Law Enforcement Presence in Rural America

Location: Washington, DC

Statement of the Honorable Mark Pryor
The Case for COPS Funding: Sustaining a Strong Law Enforcement Presence in Rural America
February 27, 2003

MR. PRESIDENT, I rise today to discuss an issue that is important to many people throughout the state of Arkansas and across the country. I rise to express my disappointment with this budget as it pertains to law enforcement programs and, in particular, community policing. I believe that this budget short changes smaller communities and grossly under-funds programs that have put more police officers on the street, reduced crime in rural areas, curbed drug abuse and put at-risk youth back on the right track.

Mr. President, this budget cuts funding to the Community Oriented Policing Services program, known by its acronym COPS, by 85 percent. This program was funded at $1.1 billion in FY02, but President Bush proposes only $164 million for the COPS program in FY04. The Administration's budget request for COPS represents a 100 percent cut to the COPS Universal Hiring Program and a 100 percent cut to the "COPS in school" program. In fact, the only program that is funded under this budget is the COPS technology program, and even that has been cut by 66 percent.

From its inception, COPS has awarded just over $8 billion to local and state law enforcement agencies across the country. With grant money, departments have hired over 110,000 community police officers in addition to purchases of technological upgrades and equipment.

The COPS program was established to focus on crime prevention and community engagement. This breaks with traditional notions of law enforcement by moving from reactive responses to proactive problem solving, focusing on the causes of crime and disorder. Community-oriented policing requires much more interaction on the neighborhood and community level than previous policing efforts.

In Arkansas, we have been able to hire over 1300 additional officers with the $83 million we received. We have also used that money to combat methamphetamine use and to implement the COPS program in schools.

A February 3 article appearing in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, my state's largest newspaper, says the reason given by this Administration for cutting funding is that COPS has "not produced conclusive results in lowering crime." Mr. President, I speak today not only as a U.S. Senator, but as the former chief law enforcement officer of Arkansas, and I wholeheartedly disagree with this Administration's assessment of these very important programs.

Mr. President, I have worked closely with the law enforcement officers of my state to make Arkansas a safer place to live and raise a family. These officers are strong leaders in their communities and demonstrate the character and courage that define us as a nation.

Often times these police officers work in smaller, rural communities. They operate under tighter budgets with smaller staffs than most of their urban counterparts. Nonetheless they put their lives on the line everyday. They make real differences in people's lives. And they do it with professionalism and an attitude of public service. They do it because it is the right thing to do. They don't do it because it is easy or pleasant and surely they don't do it for the money. And what they are asking in return isn't much.

Mr. President I would like to take this time to thank all law enforcement officials for the work they do, and I would especially like to thank Sheriff Marty Montgomery of Faulkner County, Sheriff Ron Ball of Hot Spring County and Sheriff Chuck Lange of the Arkansas Sheriff's Association. They are in Washington today as part of their national association's meeting. I thank them not only for their commitment to public service and to keeping our community safe during their combined 87 years in law enforcement, but I would also thank them for sharing with me their insight into the COPS program and helping to demonstrate just how important this program is to them. You see, Mr. President, to them this funding means the difference between life and death.

This past Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Faulkner County Sheriff's Deputy Brad Brocker was called to investigate a suspicious person call in a high drug use area. When Deputy Brocker arrived on the scene he was met with three bullets to the heart and upper chest area. Luckily he was wearing his bullet proof vest. He risked his life to make his community better and to make this great nation better. But there is more to the story. The Kevlar vest was paid for by federal grant money and Deputy Brocker was originally hired as a deputy under the COPS program. Putting this federal money into our
communities works.

In fact, Faulkner County, with its 90,000 citizens spanning 700 square miles, has used COPS funding to hire 12 officers in the past several years. Twelve officers constitute half of the Faulkner County Sheriff's Force. It has made a difference. In the last seven years the arrest rates for burglary, robbery and methamphetamine production have all gone up. Last year alone, the Faulkner County Sheriff's office seized 44 labs and shut them down for good; and Mr. President, I am sure anyone of my colleagues from a rural state can surely tell you about their problems with meth use and production. It has become an epidemic throughout rural America.

Sheriff Montgomery is proud of his department's accomplishments, as he should be, but he warns that cutting law enforcement programs such as COPS may erase the progress made in Faulkner County if the department cannot sustain the man power and law enforcement presence there.

Mr. President, I believe we have a duty to support legislation, programs and budgets to address the challenges facing law enforcement agencies in rural communities in Arkansas and across the country. Communities like Malvern, a small city in the Southwest Arkansas.

Richard Taft is the chief of the Malvern Police Force. Mr. Taft has 32 years of law enforcement experience and has spent the last 10 years as Malvern's chief of police. When Chief Taft took over in 1993, the Malvern Police Force consisted of 14 people responsible for protecting a city of over 10,000 citizens. As Chief Taft put it "I didn't have enough officers to protect my officers," let alone the citizens of Malvern.

In 1993, according to Chief Taft, crime was rampant. Robberies, drive-by shootings and burglaries occurred on a weekly basis. Since instituting the COPS program and utilizing its grant funding, crime is down. The Malvern Police Department today is 22 people strong. With the additional manpower, Malvern has assembled a special crime team with the ability to respond to critical incidents including chemical spills and missing persons.

COPS funding has also allowed the Malvern Police Department to free up some of their money for other necessities, such as computers and radios. Chief Taft says, "Without the COPS program, I wouldn't have a police force."

But yet, Mr. President, this Administration says that there is no conclusive evidence that the COPS program works. I disagree, but more importantly there are scores of law enforcement officials who would also stand up to dispute the Administration's claim.

In 1993, Little Rock, Arkansas had the highest violent crime rate per capita in the country. By working with the federal government, using the COPS program and hiring additional staff, the Little Rock Police Department has bolstered their force and violent crime has dropped by 60 percent.

Chuck Lange knows the significant positive impact that the COPS program has had statewide by putting more officers on the street. He knows that more officers have helped shorten response time, which is especially important in sprawling rural communities. He also knows that time is not a luxury afforded most crime victims.

Hot Spring County Sheriff Ron Ball told me that in his county the COPS program has enabled him to direct more time and resources to curbing domestic violence. He knows that if his department doesn't do a better job of protecting the abused, they have nowhere else to turn.

And these law enforcement officers all know and have all told me that if we let these drastic COPS funding cuts stand, rural America will suffer.

Mr. President, the list of law enforcement officials opposed to these cuts is long, but the opposition is not only limited to law enforcement. There are many mayors, community activists, and school administrators who also realize the importance of this program. School administrators like Dr. Benny Gooden.

Dr. Gooden is the Superintendent of Schools in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He oversees 26 schools with 12,500 students. Dr. Gooden knows how successful the COPS in Schools program has been. He knows that COPS is an asset to his community and to his schools. The presence of friendly, approachable police officers, known as School Resource Officers, on their campuses and in their neighborhoods has had a calming effect on Fort Smith schools.

Since the implementation of the COPS program in Fort Smith schools, Dr. Gooden has witnessed a decline in violent incidents. Over the past few years suspensions have decreased by 65 percent. Expulsions have been reduced by 80 percent. The drop-out rate has been cut in half.

When talking about the positive effect of the COPS in Schools program, Dr. Gooden calls it a powerful relationship; a win-win for both the schools and the community. Because the police officers are in the community and in the schools and are connected to the students and their families, officers can better identify and proactively defuse any potential problems.

Often times, Mr. President, problems that are found in schools begin in the neighborhood and in the home. Police officers in Fort Smith recognize this and are in a better position to resolve such problems.

Dr. Gooden has also witnessed, first-hand, the affirmative impact of this program on a child's educational experience. The officers interact with students. Some officers have offices in the schools. They are invited to school activities. These officers don't just show up when there is trouble, they are positive role models for Fort Smith's children and are involved in their lives. They spend time with students and in the community when there is no trouble and that presence, Mr. President, can make all the difference.

These positive results are not limited to Fort Smith nor are they only appreciated by the administrators. As Arkansas Attorney General, I spent a lot of time in schools talking to our young people. Over and over the students told me how much they liked having School Resource Officers on campus. It made them feel safer, it provided a needed role model and it oftentimes provided an adult they could talk to. It showed our children that their community cared about them and gave them a much better perspective on law enforcement.

Mr. President, we must also not forget the importance of these police officers as an integral part of our homeland defense and as first responders in the case of terrorist attacks. September 11th changed a lot of things for our country. It woke us to the need of genuine partnerships that involve all segments of our communities, and all levels of government. We all have a role in keeping our community safe, and when we talk about homeland security overall, we need to give serious thought to our law enforcement needs.

Unfortunately, we saw how September 11th strained the resources, and the budgets, of many towns and cities. The Administration's law enforcement budget does not help that problem. Our civilian authorities must be able to respond to whatever may confront them in the future, but how can they properly respond, when they are given a budget that cuts deep into their existence? The irony is that I have heard Secretary Ridge speak many times about how important local law enforcement agencies are to homeland security, but at the very moment when our nation needs them most, we are drastically cutting assistance to them.

Mr. President, the federal government must ensure that local governments are given the resources to complete their task and that we share the responsibilities for homeland security wisely and fairly. I know that Democrats and Republicans alike agree with this. I know Secretary Ridge agrees with this. I know that President Bush agrees with this.

President Bush said on February 20 regarding the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations that he was concerned that the Congress had failed to provide over $1 billion in funds for state and local law enforcement and emergency personnel. He went on to lament that the shortfall for homeland security First Responder programs was more than $2.2 billion dollars.

For the record, I share President Bush's concern, but shortchanging our local law enforcement efforts by under funding the critical, popular and effective COPS program is not the answer. Chief Taft of the Malvern Police Department put it best when he said: "Doing away with the COPS Program, when we are so concerned with homeland security is the wrong thing to do."

Mr. President, much is made of the word hero. Before September 11th to pick up a magazine or to put on the television, hero was synonymous with professional athletes, movie stars, or musicians. But September 11th reminded us that real heroes are right in our own backyard. While everyone was rushing out of the World Trade Center, EMT, firefighters and police officers were rushing in. That is the definition of "hero."

Local law enforcement officers protect our communities, our homes and our families from the threat of violent crime. Simply put, they stand up for justice. Mr. President I believe we must do more to stand up for them. They need the funding to do their jobs properly and deliver the same quality service that our citizens expect and deserve, whether they live in New York City or Des Arc, Arkansas.

During the upcoming budget debate, I will support increasing funding for the COPS program and other law enforcement programs. I would urge my colleagues to do the same. I also plan to be a proud co-sponsor of legislation to reauthorize the COPS program when my distinguished colleague from Delaware, Senator Biden, sees fit to introduce that bill.

We need to build on what we know works and develop initiatives that respond to the law enforcement needs of our communities. The COPS program works and deserves adequate funding. These communities who benefit from this program deserve it as well. Thank you.

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