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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 679

Location: Washington, DC


S 679. A bill to provide reliable officers, technology, education, community prosecutors, and training in our neighborhoods; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation to reauthorize the COPS program through 2009.
Since September 11, our local police have been asked to do more for their communities than ever before. Walk the beat. Be on guard against terrorists. Secure critical infrastructures. And gather intelligence on future terrorist acts when possible. Washington has a role in securing the homeland, but the burdens fall heaviest on our local communities.

There are more than 700,000 police officers and sheriffs in the country, compared with nearly 11,000 FBI agents. It is our local police chiefs and sheriffs who are called upon more and more to protect us against the new threats from abroad. We had a sobering reminder this week. As President Bush braced the Nation for war in Iraq, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge ratcheted our alert level back up to orange and called all 50 governors to request that they provide an increased police presence at airports.

Our mayors and police chiefs are hurting. Local budgets are incredibly tight—some communities have been forced to lay officers off, or to consider freeing criminals before their sentences are up, to cut costs. Even before 9/11, it was clear that the crime drop of the nineties was coming to a close. Last winter, the FBI reported that crime jumped for the second straight year. The FBI has had to necessarily refocus its resources. Recently, the Washington Post reported that the FBI has plans to "mobilize as many as 5,000 agents to guard against terrorist attacks" during hostilities with Iraq. The FBI's criminal surveillance operations "would be temporarily suspended." Local police will be called upon to pick up the slack once the FBI is forced to pull almost half of its agents out of traditional crime-fighting work.

The fight to secure our streets does not end with preventing terrorism. Crime is up again. The newest figures tell us the historic crime drop the nation experienced during the 1990s is over. Property crimes—offenses that tend to jump in a week economy—are rising particularly fast. The FBI recently reported a 4 percent hike in burglaries and motor vehicle thefts last year alone. Where fighting violent crime and bank robberies used to be among the FBI's highest priorities, the FBI is now focused on counter- terrorism efforts. Increasingly, local police departments, statewide crimefighting task forces and drug-fighting projects are being told by the Bush administration that they are on their own when it comes to fighting crime.

What's worse, all of this is happening during a time of unprecedented economic hardship in our cities and States. States are facing dramatic budgetary shortfalls. A new report finds that budget gaps for State governments soared by nearly 50 percent in the past three months and state legislatures face a minimum $68.5 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Mayors nationwide report that cities spent $2.6 billion through the end of last year on new security costs.
The response of the administration to these concerns has been disappointing. This year, for the second budget cycle in a row, the President proposes to eliminate the COPS hiring program. COPS is the only initiative in the entire Federal Government that targets its resources directly towards police. There is no middleman. There is very little red tape. Police chiefs report they have never worked with such a responsive, effective Federal program. And yet the administration wants to shut it down.

Since we created COPS as part of the 1994 Crime Bill, the program has awarded grants to hire and redeploy 117,000 police officers to the streets. 87,300 are on the beat. In the most recent year of hiring grants, 2002, 4,400 officers were hired or redeployed.

The President's budget gives several justifications for shutting down COPS. First, the administration claims the program doesn't work, that it hasn't cut crime. That is a curious assertion. Crime dropped for seven straight years after COPS resources began to be put to use in cities and towns. There was a 28 percent drop in crime from 1994 to 2000.
Two studies support the assertion that COPS grants help cut crime. One, released just this past November by the American Society of Criminology, found that COPS hiring grants have "resulted in significant reductions in local crime rates." In 2000, the urban Institute concluded that COPS has had a "broad national impact" on the levels and styles of policing, and that it provided "significant support for the adoption of community policing around the country."
It's not just criminologists and think tanks who agree with me that COPS works. Leading law enforcement officials share the view. Last year, our friend and former colleague Attorney General Ashcroft called COPS a "miraculous sort of success." He said, "it's one of those things that Congress hopes will happen when it sets up a program." At a conference last July, the Attorney General endorsed the theory that COPS cuts crime. "Since law enforcement agencies began partnering with citizens through community policing, we've seen significant drops in crime rates," he noted.
The administration offers a second reason for wanting to eliminate COPS: The disparity between "officers hired" and "officers funded". Because COPS has funded 117,000 cops, but only 87,000 are on the street, the President argues, the program is not accountable. That assertion overlooks the operations of the Office of community Policing Services. Few Federal programs operate with as much oversight and internal review as does COPS. The disparity that seems to so concern the Administration is simple to explain: It takes time to hire a new cop. Once COPS awards a hiring grant, it can take anywhere from six to eighteen months to find, hire, train and deploy the new officer. There is no accounting problem. It is good public policy for police departments to take the appropriate amount of time to find suitable candidates for new community policing positions, and this discrepancy between officers funded and officers hired is the result.

Post 9/11, COPS is about much more than fighting crime. It's about homeland security. The Attorney General again said it best last July when he noted that "COPS provides resources that reflect our national priority of terrorism prevention." The new assistant director at the FBI in charge of coordinating with local law enforcement agreed: "The FBI fully understands that our success in the fight against terrorism is directly related to the strength of our relationship with our State and local partners." These aren't my words. They're the words of the top cops.

COPS does not just hire new officers. It requires these officers to practice community policing. Community policing is a philosophy that gives more power to line officers. They get assigned to fixed geographic areas. This decision-making power and neighborhood familiarity can be invaluable in a crisis, when relationships with community residents and the ability to make quick decisions is critical. Community relationships that come from COPS can also help unearth intelligence about potential terrorist actions.

By taking cops out of their cars and having them walk the streets, police officers get to know the residents of the neighborhood where they're assigned. This has proven extremely effective at building trust and partnership between local police and the residents they protect. Community residents consistently sing the praises of community policing. It pays dividends by creating a climate in which neighborhood residents partner with police, not only providing police with valuable information about criminal activity in their neighborhood, but restoring overall confidence in the criminal justice system.

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We need to continue the COPS program. The Justice Department reports that for the past several grant-making cycles, demand for new police hiring grants has outstripped available funds by a factor of almost three to one. To meet this need, the legislation I introduce today authorizes $600 million per year over the next 6 years, enough to hire up to 50,000 more officers. We have made this portion of the program more flexible: up to half of these hiring dollars can be used to help police departments retain those community police officers currently on payroll. In another change from current law, a portion of these funds can be used for officer training and education.

We make a key change to the current COPS program in the bill I introduce today. In response to the needs of first responders across the country, the bill authorizes a new, permanent COPS Overtime Program. This initiative, funded at up to $150 million per year for 6 years, will help ease the homeland security burdens faced by police departments across the country by reimbursing local police departments for the homeland security overtime expenses they incur. I was pleased that the Appropriations Committee included a 1-year, $60 million version of this program in the recently-passed omnibus appropriations bill. The permanent COPS Overtime Program in this bill builds on that appropriations provision.

The legislation also provides funding for new technologies, so law enforcement can have access to the latest high-tech crime fighting equipment to keep pace with today's sophisticated criminals. Also included are funds to help local district attorneys hire more community prosecutors. These prosecutors will expand the community justice concept and engage the entire community in preventing and fighting crime. The statistics we have on community prosecutions are quite promising, and we should increase the funds available to local prosecutors, a piece of our criminal justice puzzle that has too often gone overlooked.

I would like to thank the men and women of law enforcement for their service and heroism during these difficult times. They are up to the challenge, but we should support them any way we can. The bill I introduced today gives local police the support they deserve. I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue the COPS program

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