In less than a month, deep, automatic cuts in federal funding, known as sequestration, will begin to take effect. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Justice’s justice assistance grant programs will be cut by 8.2 percent across the board. Unless Congress changes the underlying law, similar-or much deeper-cuts will occur every year for the next ten years. This will affect the Edward R. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne-JAG) program, the hiring program administered by the Office on Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) grant program, the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and many others.
Additionally, State and local law enforcement officers will be facing layoffs and program closures if automatic federal spending cuts take effect Jan. 2, 2013, 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 substance abuse programs, victims’ advocates, drug task forces and other law enforcement programs could be eliminated now or in the near future.
“The drug and meth problem are at epidemic levels and resources to combat the scourge are diminishing,” wrote a law enforcement officer in Kentucky in response to recent 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.”
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.
For criminal justice grants, which have already been cut 43 percent since 2010, additional cuts could cripple public safety efforts at the state and local level, officials say. Already, more than half of the 714 organizations that responded to the survey noted that they had lost, on average, 3.4 full-time equivalent employees.
The survey asked agencies for examples of how sequestration cuts might hurt them, and law enforcement officers predicted dire consequences.
In Carroll County, Ohio, which is just west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and experiencing an influx of people from the shale gas 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.”
A Tennessee 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.”
“Victims and citizens do not want to hear that their safety is being jeopardized due to lack of funds and resources,” responded the Wilton Manors Police Department, which serves a region just north of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
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.”
Congress is working now to reach a comprehensive deficit reduction deal to amend or delay sequestration and to address the other elements of the fiscal cliff. Even if the current sequestration mechanism is canceled, these programs may be jeopardized by deeper cuts.
It is important for the law enforcement and prosecution communities to join together in explaining the vital role these Federal dollars play in your ability to protect the public safety, build stable communities, and continue to test innovative methods for preventing, fighting and prosecuting crime.
To this end, the Fraternal Order of Police is joining with other organizations in the criminal justice community in an effort to protect these vital programs. Please click on this link to sign onto a letter to Congress urging them to protect these essential programs:
It will take less than two minutes. And it will make a difference. If you have any questions about the letter, please contact the National FOP Legislative Office 202-547-8189.