Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Effects of 9-11 on Local Law Enforcement

The effects of the September 11, 2001 attacks on local law enforcement in Santa Fe is much different than the effects in cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. When the Bush administration took over from the Clinton administration it was the beginning of massive changes to the relationship between the Federal Government and local law enforcement. The Clinton Community Oriented Policing Program nicknamed C.O.P.S. was a successful grassroots policing program. It had a goal of expanding the numbers of police on the street throughout America as well as training local police about the new age of community policing.

C.O.P.S. was a cornerstone of Clintons Political Agenda and as such the Bush administration began dismantling the program as soon as it took office. Then comes September 11, 2001, Rightly so, the Bush Administration began a new era of Homeland Security. America needed to change its attitude and preparedness for these types of attacks. What the Bush administration did wrong was to use September 11, as the excuse to drive the final nails into the coffin of the C.O.P.S. Program. No longer did local agency's have federal dollars to buy bullet resistant vests for police, No longer did local agency's have the training, and ability to hire additional police with Federal dollars. Some local agency's like Torrance County lost half their deputies to these cuts. They went from a Sheriff's Office of 14 deputies to 7 deputies overnight. Where Santa Fe County once got 15 to $20,000 per year to buy expensive bullet resistant vests we now get 3 to $5,000 per year. When I took office in 2003 there were 5 less deputies in the Santa Fe County Sheriffs Office than two years before. Three of these were directly attributed to the loss of the C.O.P.S. Funding.

The Homeland Security Dollars now are distributed by a complicated formula based on so much dollars per each state which are funneled through the state government and how they are used and disseminated is decided by the state, and another allocation goes to some states based on population. Local law enforcement and fire then must work together to apply for and spend the dollars which finally filter down to the local agencies.

What the Bush administration has always fail to realize is that by the time these dollars reach the local agencies they are greatly diminished and the restrictions and politics involved in spending these dollars are such that their effectiveness is greatly diminished.

Much discussion in the community surrounded the City Police Departments receiving an Armored Swat Vehicle recently. Many said those dollars could have been better used at the local level. The truth of the matter is that those dollars were set aside by someone way above the local city police and if they did not accept the vehicle it would have been just given to someone else. There was no discretion on what would be best to use that money for. The money could have been used to help buy much needed police cars or other equiptment but the city police did not have that option. It was either accept the armored vehicle or not.

These types of decisions are made for us with most of the Homeland Security Dollars. The local agencies are the first and sometimes the only agency's to respond at the time attacks like September 11, happen. Take a look at who responded to the World Trade Center attacks. Local Fire and Police. When lives needed to be saved and during that short window of opportunity before the buildings collapsed it was primarily local agencies coming to the rescue. By the time federal and other assistance arrived it was the next day. The same lesson is learned from the hurricanes that ravaged New Orleans and the coast. Your first responders must have adequate personnel and equiptment to deal with a major event until the secondary outside assistance can arrive.

There are less police on the streets today than five years ago. Let me repeat that, There are less police on the streets today than five years ago. Some of this is attributed to the fact that the 100,000 new cops program C.O.P.S. is dead. Some of this is attributed to the fact that vacancies in police agencies can not be filled. The Santa Fe City Police has approximately 19 vacancies, the State Police has approximately 70 vacancies, Albuquerque Police has over 100 vacancies, the list goes on and on across this nation.

Homeland Security is not the only place all the C.O.P.S. money has gone. The war in Iraq has taken more than its fair share of Federal Dollars. The Spend like there is no tomorrow Bush Administration and Republican Congress has foolishly misspent billions of dollars while allowing true homeland security issues such as local police and fire to languish. As I think of the 343 firefighters, 40 EMT's and Paramedics, 23 Police Officers, 37 Port Authority Officers, and 1 K-9 Officer who died just at the World Trade Center Attacks I realize that the tribute our Federal Government has paid to them and their peers is to reduce their numbers so when the next attack comes their will be less of them to respond.

Things don't look any better in the next budget. The Bush administration asked Congress for an 8 percent decrease in discretionary spending for the Justice Department for fiscal 2007, cutting grants to state and local law enforcement programs by $1.1 billion. I can only think to myself, As Santa Fe County's Federal dollars for police and fire continue to diminish will there be any left next year at all?

Below is my next tribute Video for the victims of 9-11. This video was made by an eighth grade student. Its a little long but very well done for his age. Along with the Numbers of Police and Fire I just named as killed on September 11 were a grand total of 2997 persons killed. We must never forget those who died in these vicious attacks and we must honor them by making America better prepared to both prevent and respond to these attacks should they occur.

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