by Kevin Johnson
A day after Attorney General John Ashcroft told the nation’s largest association of law enforcement executives that the Bush administration had made the nation more secure from terrorist attacks and violent criminals, the group lashed back at the White House on Tuesday.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) said that cuts by the administration in federal aid to local police agencies have left the nation more vulnerable than ever to public safety threats. The 20,000-member group also said in a statement that new anti-terrorism duties for local cops — which have come as state and local budgets have declined and historically low crime rates have crept upward — have pushed police agencies to “the breaking point.”
The statement reflected the ongoing tension between the administration and many local police chiefs, who believe the White House has saddled them with anti-terrorism tasks without much regard to the cost.
Among other things, members of the chiefs’ group have long complained about localities having to pay millions of dollars in overtime costs when the U.S. government issued terrorism alerts. The group also is annoyed that President Bush is phasing out a $10 billion program begun by the Clinton administration in 1996 to help local departments hire tens of thousands more cops.
IACP President Joseph Polisar, the police chief in Garden Grove, Calif., said hundreds of police officer jobs have been lost across the nation during the past four years. And proposed cuts in federal aid in the 2005 budget could reach almost $1 billion, threatening hundreds more, the chief said.
Ashcroft, who spoke to the group Monday in Los Angeles, listed a range of accomplishments during his tenure at the Justice Department and got a polite reception from delegates to the group’s national convention.
The chiefs’ group is particularly concerned about how anti-terrorism efforts have changed how police departments get federal aid. Tens of millions of dollars that in the past was sent to local departments each year by the Justice Department now are directed to the Department of Homeland Security. DHS uses the money to help train and equip agencies that would respond to terrorist attacks.
Police departments still get some of the aid, but now they must share it with fire departments and public health agencies. The money also must be spent on anti-terrorism efforts, rather than to beef up law enforcement programs or to hire more cops.