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Senior Justice Center

Federal spending plan slashes anti-crime grants

Law enforcement officials across the country are lambasting the federal spending plan approved by President Bush on Dec. 26, warning that a 67-percent decrease in funding for targeted state and local criminal justice initiatives imperils public safety.
The $555 billion compromise appropriations bill for fiscal 2008, which Bush signed after a months-long standoff with Democratic congressional leaders over spending priorities, cuts to roughly $170 million — from $520 million last year — the money available to states and localities through the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.
The grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, helps pay for a host of law enforcement initiatives in states and cities, including drug task forces, anti-gang units and overtime for police officers.
In Pennsylvania , for example, the money is used to pay state police to help “beef up patrols” in smaller cities when it is necessary, said Michael Kane, executive director of the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which distributes federal criminal justice funds in the Keystone State . In Philadelphia — where the murder rate has soared in recent years — the city uses the funds to pay for after-school programs for at-risk youth, drug treatment courts and technology to help fight crime, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.
About 60 percent of the Justice Assistance Grants go to states and 40 percent go directly to localities, often major cities like Philadelphia, according to the Department of Justice. All 50 states, as well as overseas territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, received grants last fiscal year.
The substantial drop in this year’s federal funding for the grants means “we’ll have to lick our wounds in each state and see how we can survive for a year,” said Jim Kane, executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, which distributes the federal funds to localities in that state. Kane, who is no relation to Michael Kane, said law enforcers will have to put “a finger in the dike” until funding increases.
“Let there be no room for doubt, communities everywhere will see the effects of this bill and its cuts to criminal justice funding. A cut to the JAG program is a cut to local law enforcement and victims of crime everywhere,” said David Steingraber, president of the National Criminal Justice Association, a network of state officials that is organizing efforts to restore funding next year. “Congress has just made the job of every police officer in this country more difficult.”
The association has blamed the funding shortage on members of Congress who favored pet projects over anti-crime dollars. When he signed this year’s appropriations bill, President Bush criticized Congress for including in the legislation “nearly 9,800 earmarks that total more than $10 billion,” according to news accounts.
It is unclear when states and localities will begin to feel the pinch. In Delaware, Jim Kane said it likely would be during summer, when crime tends to spike and extra assistance — such as police officers working overtime — is needed. Pennsylvania officials, however, said the diminished grants likely would not disrupt existing criminal justice programs in the short term.
A number of local law enforcement units already have expressed concern over the cuts. Drug enforcement agents in Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Montana and North Carolina have warned their agencies face cuts and possible closure.

John Gramlich, Staff Writer - Associated Press

Updated 3.10.2008