Public safety USA not a beltway priority E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

If you think law enforcement budgets have been cut to the bone just wait. You haven’t seen anything yet. According to a recent article in Governing Magazine, the elimination of specialized units and between 20,000 and 30,000 cops laid off nationwide is just the beginning. This all has to do with “sequestration.” That’s the term for automatic spending cuts that will take effect in a matter of months. If Congress can’t work out a deal by January 2, 2013, automatic cuts to military and domestic spending will start. State and local law enforcement officers will be facing layoffs and program closures if the automatic federal spending cuts take effect.

According to a new survey released by the National Criminal Justice Association and the Vera Institute of Justice, cuts to federal criminal justice grants will mean that even more substance abuse programs, victims’ advocates, drug task forces and other law enforcement programs will be eliminated.

“The drug and meth problem are at epidemic levels and resources to combat the scourge are diminishing,” an officer in Kentucky wrote in response to the survey results. “Morale is very low. Officers are overworked…it’s hard to estimate the devastation these cuts will make to an already horrible condition. The finger holding the dike is getting worn down.”

According to Governing Magazine’s Maggie Clark: “The cuts are a result of sequestration, part of the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August 2011, which raised the debt ceiling and mandated across-the-board cuts if a budget deficit-reduction plan was not enacted before the end of 2012. All programs and projects in the budget would face 8.2 percent cuts right away, and face yearly reductions until fiscal year 2021.”

Eight percent doesn’t sound like that big a deal to John Q. Citizen. But if you’re a public safety professional you might be aware of the fact that criminal justice grants have already been cut 43 percent since 2010.

Those cuts have crippled public safety efforts at the state and local level, and the next round of cuts will make things much, much worse.

Already, more than half of the 714 organizations that responded to the survey noted that they had lost, on average, 3.4 full-time employees.

The survey asked local law enforcement agencies for examples of how sequestration cuts might hurt them.

In Carroll County, Ohio, which is just west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and experiencing an influx of people from the fracking boom in the area, the Sheriff’s Office reports that the current cuts in justice assistance grants “removed two officers from road patrol, leaving at times only one officer on a shift to patrol 388.59 square miles. Incident reports since 2010 have increased by 32.3 percent…Loss of personnel will cause lengthier response times and diminish overall security for county residents.”

In Tennessee, officials with a drug and violent crimes task force wrote, “We have already reduced our work force by a third due to cutbacks in funding. To put it simply, further funding cuts of seven to nine percent yearly (as sequestration requires) will eventually put us out of business.  There will be no one in our district to step up and do the job we have been doing.”

“The survey, says Elizabeth Pyke, director of government affairs at the National Criminal Justice Association, will hopefully remind Congress that criminal justice programs have already sustained big cuts in the last few years.

“These programs have already been cut 43 percent and those cuts have already had an effect on public safety,” Pyke says. The additional cuts mandated by sequestration, the report notes, “could leave the federal-state-local public safety partnership virtually unfunded by 2021.”

In other words, the future is bright for crooks and bleak for cops.

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