Leahy Praises Law Enforcement Funding In Recovery Package

WASHINGTON (Friday, Feb. 13, 2009) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday praised the inclusion of nearly $4 billion for law enforcement programs in the economic recovery and investment package negotiated by Congressional leaders this week.  The House of Representatives approved the package Friday afternoon, and the Senate is expected to vote on the measure Friday evening. 

Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Earlier this year, Leahy proposed including funding for federal grant programs to support state and local law enforcement and crime victims’ services in the economic recovery package.  In a Judiciary Committee hearing January 8 chaired by Leahy, witnesses testified about the importance of federal assistance to state and local law enforcement, including the Community Orienting Policing Services (COPS) grant program and the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program.  The COPS program, which will receive $1 billion in the recovery package, provides states and local governments with funding to help hire law enforcement officers to combat neighborhood crime and preserve safe economic conditions in our communities.

“The funding for state and local law enforcement in this recovery package will not only help to address vital crime prevention needs, but will also have an immediate and positive impact on the economy,” said Leahy.  “Police chiefs and experts from across the country told the Judiciary Committee in our first hearing of the year, which I chaired last month, about the impact these federal grant programs have on our communities.  Hiring new police officers will stimulate the economy and lead to safer communities and neighborhoods.  Providing funding to state and local law enforcement is not a ‘special interest,’ as some would claim.  Effective law enforcement is decidedly a vital public interest.”

In the weeks leading up to the House and Senate votes on the recovery package, support has grown for including funding for state and local law enforcement, and White House advisors have voiced strong support for the law enforcement assistance component of the investment package.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, former Associate Attorney General John Schmidt, who implemented the 1994 crime bill which created the COPS program, highlighted the economic and public safety benefits of the COPS program, stating that “all of the funding goes directly to pay the salaries of officers hired to work in police departments across the country.  Those new hires will begin earning (and spending)…within just a matter of weeks.  Thus, the positive economic impact will be felt even before the public safety benefits.”

Police Chief Michael Schirling of Burlington, Vermont, testified that grants to help state and local law enforcement agencies hire additional officers directly impacts local communities, stating that “a safe community, someplace that people want to come and vacation, spend their dollars, visit relatives, or even move to, is critical in the overall goal of growing our economy, not only locally, but regionally and nationally.”

The economic recovery and investment package also includes Leahy-backed funding for programs and services to help crime victims, including $100 million for victims’ compensation and assistance to ensure that those already victimized by crime are not also the victims of a struggling economy.  The bill contains grant funds for the Office on Violence Against Women, including for the Transition Housing Assistance Program, which helps states fund programs to provide safe havens for victims of domestic and sexual violence who find safe housing options shrinking with the growing mortgage and housing crisis.

Law enforcement and crime victims programs receiving funding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 include:

·         State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance: $2.765 billion

o   Byrne-Justice Assistance Grants: $2 billion

o   Byrne Competitive Grants: $225 million

o   Rural Drug Enforcement Assistance: $125 million

o   Crime Victims Assistance: $100 million

o   Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program: $50 million

o   Southwest Border/Project Gunrunner: $40 million

o   Tribal Law Enforcement Assistance: $225 million

·         Community Oriented Policing Services:  $1 billion (for grants to state and local governments to hire additional law enforcement officers)

·         Office of Violence Against Women: $225 million

o   STOP Formula Grants: $175 million

o   Transitional Housing Assistance Program: $50 million

Last year, Leahy held Judiciary Committee hearings in Rutland, Vermont, and St. Albans, Vermont, to seek solutions to drug crime in rural areas, and the law enforcement provisions he pushed for take special aim at these rural needs.  He also has heard from crime victim services providers in Vermont that have faced drastic budget cuts over the past eight years, which forced many to curtail services, lay off staff, and even close their doors.  

On Jan. 6, the first bill Leahy introduced this Congress was the Rural Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which aims to help local law enforcement agencies address crime problems that are expected to grow worse with the mounting economic downturn.  On January 26, Leahy introduced the Improving Assistance to Domestic and Sexual Violence Victims Act to address the needs of the growing number of domestic and sexual violence victims.

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