Wall needed between politics and policing
By James Alan Fox
Monday,  July 17, 2006

 If there is one feature that defines the Bush administration, it may be its doggedness (and I don't mean First Pups, Barney and Miss Beazley).

Even as support for the war in Iraq has sunk to incredibly low levels - in blue states and in red - President Bush preaches that America must ``show resolve,'' ``be vigilant'' and ``stay the course'' to defeat the ``forces of terror.''

Regrettably, Bush has failed to show as much resolve and commitment to our front line of defense at home - local police to defeat the forces of violence on the streets of America.

Somewhat disingenuously, Bush during his re-election campaign stood proudly, shoulder to shoulder, with heroes of the NYPD in photo-ops and television ads, while at the same time depriving the local finest in New York and elsewhere of the necessary federal funds to do the job - that is, keeping us safe not just from external terrorist threats but from the threat of common street crime.

In a classic case of money-vs.-mouth hypocrisy, Bush claims to support the officers in blue who patrol the streets of America's cities just as much as the soldiers in green serving in Baghdad; but his funding priorities indicate otherwise.

In cities with populations of 250,000 or over, the number of sworn officers per 1,000 residents dropped from 3.1 in 2000 to 2.8 in 2004 (the latest figure available), a decline of 8 percent. Meanwhile, the president's proposal for fiscal 2007, like those of previous budget cycles, would further decimate federal programs on which local police agencies have depended to supplement limited local funding.

The proposed reductions include an almost 80 percent cut of $380 million to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) for next year alone.

The Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) program, which supports local governments in a broad range of crime prevention and crime control initiatives, received over $400 million last year, but is now slated for elimination.

The president is playing politics with policing, and jeopardizing us all in the process. It was the federal government's initiatives through the COPS Office that was key to much of the success in cutting crime every year from 1993 to 2000.

Of course, COPS was one of Bill Clinton's pet programs, advocated during the 1992 campaign and delivered with congressional action. But Bush, from the start of his term in 2001, targeted this Clinton program for downsizing, and regrettably he, too, has delivered on the promise.

This change in priorities is worse than the typical move in Washington politics to replace a predecessor's agenda. This shift has the tragic irony of occurring when the affected services provided by police are as critical as ever, given rising crime rates plus continuing concern for terrorism.

Compounding the political hypocrisy, the federal government is asking local police agencies to do more, not less, in the face of terrorist threat. If anything, the Bush administration should be increasing local aid to law enforcement, not diminishing it.

I am not an alarmist, and do not see the recent rise in violence as reason to conclude, as did fabled Chicken Little, that the ``sky is falling.''

Chicken Little convinced Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey and her other frightened friends that their lives were in imminent danger. At the end of her journey, Chicken Little met up with Foxy Loxy, who knew better than to get carried away.

As far as this Professor Foxy Loxy is concerned, we should remain calm in the face of increasing bloodshed.

Yet, the White House and Congress need to make assistance to law enforcement a federal budget priority once again.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Talk back at j.fox@neu.edu.