Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Death of C.O.P.S. program hurts nation.

I thought today I would ramble on about the death of the Clinton era C.O.P.S. Program. During President Clinton Administration he started an ambitious program to add 100,000 police officers to the streets of America. Thus was born the Community Oriented Policing Services Program. Grants were funded and training initiatives were put in place by the Federal Government and hundreds if not thousands of police departments and Sheriff's Offices across the nation received funding for additional officers. The greatest part of the program was that it funded the new officers during the first years after their hire. This is the most expensive time in an officers career for local governments to fund as we must fund salaries, pensions and benefits as well as equiptment, vehicles and their stint at the police academy. After two to four years the agency then took over the salary and benefits for the officers.

With the Bush administration the program immediately received massive cuts until now when the program is almost non existent. Departments such as New York Police who had expanded by 4000 police under the program ended up dropping 3000 of the police officers as funding dried up. But it was not just large urban areas who lost officers. Many agency's big and small lost officers in New Mexico. One of the hardest hit was Torrance County Sheriff's Office which lost 12 of its 23 deputies. In July 2004 the cops funding ended for Torrance County and the county was unable financially to fund the 12 positions so all were laid off. I can't imagine losing 50% of our Sheriff's Deputies. Our office took advantage by offering jobs to the Torrance County Deputies and we were lucky to hire four of the laid off deputies. Hiring and retaining officers is a challenge so Torrance Counties loss was our gain.

Santa Fe once had four deputies under the C.O.P.S. Program in the Sheriff Ray Sisneros era. When the time came for the county to take over funding on these positions they were cut from the budget. I have been told that the cuts were promulgated by a county commissioner who was upset after he was arrested. While I don't think anyone will officially give this as the reason for the cuts, several people involved in the county at the time have stated that this is so. The four deputies lost during this time have still yet to all be made up. In the first year of my administration I was successful in getting three of these positions placed back into the budget. Last year we concentrated on getting the deputies raises and did not ask for additional deputies. As we prepare the 2006/2007 budget we will look at the possibility of increasing the number of funded deputies.

The Bush cuts in law enforcement don't just stop at the C.O.P.S. program. Between the Iraq war and the massive increases in Homeland Security Funding many law enforcement grants are gone or cut dramatically. Another example is the Bullet Resistant Vests for officers (you are not supposed to call them bullet proof). This year we had to replace 50 vests because of recalls and those that had expired. Vests have a usable life of five years. The federal government which used to help fund vests for almost every Deputy gave us enough money for 10 vests. Vests cost between $500 and $1000 each. Training which used to be subsidized by federal grants is all but gone.

It really amazes me that for years and years the Republican Party ran as the "law enforcement party", they claimed to be better for law enforcement than the democrats. President Reagan (Republican) did a lot to support law enforcement, however no recent president has done more to combat crime and support law enforcement than President Clinton. Many of these types of funding are cyclical, when crime takes a turn for the worst the federal government will wake up and throw money at the problem. The only problem with this cyclical way of funding is that each time the crime wave comes it is more costly to recover from the years of neglect. The best way is to have a consistent funding of public safety that allows programs to continue and make a difference.

No comments: