Thursday, July 24, 2008

Which Security?

The federal government under the current administration has been busy pawing off federal responsibilities to state and local governments. Local police departments are especially subject to extra duties, including immigration enforcement and, as this NY Times article points out, terrorism investigations. The problem is that local police departments aren't being given the same level of support for their traditional responsibility of crime fighting.

Like most of the country’s more than 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, the Providence Police Department went to war against terror after Sept. 11, embracing a fundamental shift in its national security role. Police officers everywhere had been shaken by disclosures that the police in Oklahoma, Florida, Maryland and Virginia had stopped four of the Sept. 11 hijackers at various times for traffic violations, but had detected nothing amiss.

Over the years since, police officials in Providence joined with state and federal authorities in new information-sharing projects, met with local Muslim leaders and urged their officers to be alert for anything suspicious. Flush with federal domestic-security grants, the police department acquired millions of dollars’ worth of hardware and enrolled officers in training courses to detect and respond to a terrorist attack.

But much has changed. Now, police officials here express doubts about whether the imperative to protect domestic security has blinded federal authorities to other priorities. The department is battling homicides, robberies and gang shootings that the police in a number of cities say are as serious a threat as terrorism.

The Providence police chief, Col. Dean M. Esserman, said the federal government seemed unable to balance antiterror efforts and crime fighting. ...

From 2002 to this year, the department went from zero to more than $11.6 million in total domestic security grants, according to Police Department figures, while other criminal justice grants, like those from Justice Department programs used to pay overtime and hire more officers, dwindled to less than $4.5 million for the same period.

One Justice Department program, the Byrne Justice Action Grant, which helps the police fight violent crime by paying for overtime and other policing costs, has suffered heavy cutbacks. Providence’s Byrne grant was reduced to $118,000 this year, from $388,000 in 2007.

The Bush administration has proposed eliminating money for the program in its 2009 budget.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I suppose there is nothing wrong with providing money, equipment, and training to local police who will undoubtedly be first on the scene of any future attack, and I don't think there's any great harm in coordinating investigative efforts between local and federal officials. I do, however, object to doing so at the cost of the traditional crime fighting the police are supposed to be doing on our streets. So does the the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently issued a scathing analysis of federal spending, saying, “Unfortunately, funding federal homeland security efforts at the expense of state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies weakens rather than enhances our nation’s security.”

All of this assumes, of course, that the current administration is really interested in enhancing our nation's security, an assumption I think may be a dangerous one. It appears to me that the real goal of at least this administration has been to keep the populace in constant fear of another attack so that we will continue to allow our civil liberties to be stripped away. For that reason, I am somewhat cheered by the stance of the IACP, with whom I haven't always agreed.

180 days.



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