Many of the nation's top state and local law enforcement officials joined leading criminologists and practitioners today in blunt appeals to Congress to spare federal anti-crime programs from major new funding cuts.
The appeals, contained in separate letters signed by 2,700 law enforcement officers and almost 900 criminal justice officials, academic criminologists, and groups representing prosecutors, state legislators and mayors, warned that such cuts would “eviscerate the crucial role the federal government plays in crime control by the spurring of innovation, as well as the testing and replicating of evidence-based practices nationwide.”
The appeal comes as Congress faces tough decisions over taxes and spending in the next few weeks to ward off a fiscal crisis in January.
New threatened spending cuts could affect what is called the non-defense discretionary part of the federal budget, which includes U.S. Justice Department grant programs.
The letters noted that Justice Department grant cuts have already contributed $1.5 billion to deficit reduction, having decreased funding for anti-crime programs by more than 40 percent since fiscal year 2010.
Grants for state and local crime-fighting bear the lion’s share of federal budget cuts in criminal justice because major Justice Department agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Prisons command a large share of the department’s funds and are unlikely to be cut to the same extent as grants.
Under a process known as sequestration that will be triggered unless Congress comes to some other agreement about federal budget issues, caps on discretionary spending “will have a direct impact on the public safety and quality of life in our communities,” today’s letters said.
They argued that the crime drop in recent years to the lowest levels in the U.S. since the 1960s is “due, in large measure, to advances in crime prevention and recidivism reduction supported by the federal grant programs. Because of federal support from the Department of Justice, we are able to test innovative strategies, measure results, and replicate successful practices in other communities.”
Although the federal share of state and local criminal justice services is only 3.3 percent of the amount spent by state and local governments, it provides “the much-needed spark which allows state and local governments, as well as our organizations and community partners, to test new initiatives and coordinate across the justice system to find solutions that work,” the letters to Congress said.
One letter contends that, “Crime prevention is absolutely central to our nation’s economic recovery."
The letter went on to say: "Business does not invest where crime flourishes. And individuals often need support, treatment, and tools for stable employment if they are to become productive members of society who contribute to our nation’s economic vitality.”
The letter signed by police officers said that "the crime we see in our communities is increasingly driven by regional, national and even international gangs and drug trafficking organizations.
"Fighting these crimes requires a sophistication and coordination across all levels of government in ways unheard of just a decade ago."
The police called themselves "the first responders, the 'boots on the ground,' in every criminal investigation, even those that become federal investigations. We are the first responders for natural disasters and acts of terror.
"We are far more successful when we work across jurisdictions to track and enforce drug, gang, human trafficking and financial crimes. Federal support is vital to our collective success."
Cuts in federal funding in the last two years have been “truly devastating,” the advocates told Congress, citing a national survey by the National Criminal Justice Association and Vera Institute of Justice, which was previously reported in The Crime Report.
The letter asks that any deficit reduction agreement approved by Congress “avoid further cuts” to non-defense discretionary spending and specifically Justice Department grants.
The general letter was signed by leaders of such groups as the National Criminal Justice Association, Vera Institute of Justice, Pretrial Justice Institute, Major Cities Chiefs Association, American Probation and Parole Association, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Organization for Victim Assistance, and Justice Research and Statistics Association.
The law enforcement letter was signed by police chiefs and prosecutors from around the U.S. as well as leaders of groups including the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington DC Contributing Editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.