State and local law enforcement officers will be facing layoffs and program closures if automatic federal spending cuts take effect Jan. 2, 2013, according to a new survey released by the National Criminal Justice Association and the Vera Institute of Justice. Cuts to federal criminal justice grants will mean that substance abuse programs, victims' advocates, drug task forces and other law enforcement programs could be eliminated now or in the near future.
“The drug and meth problem are at epidemic levels and resources to combat the scourge are diminishing,” wrote a law enforcement officer in Kentucky in response to the survey results released Thursday (October 11). “Morale is very low. Officers are overworked…it's hard to estimate the devastation these cuts will make to an already horrible condition. The finger holding the dike is getting worn down.”
The cuts are a result of sequestration, part of the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August 2011, which raised the debt ceiling and mandated across-the-board cuts if a budget deficit-reduction plan was not enacted before the end of 2012. All programs and projects in the budget would face 8.2 percent cuts right away, and face yearly reductions until fiscal year 2021.
For criminal justice grants, which have already been cut 43 percent since 2010, additional cuts could cripple public safety efforts at the state and local level, officials say. Already, more than half of the 714 organizations that responded to the survey noted that they had lost, on average, 3.4 full-time equivalent employees.
The survey asked agencies for examples of how sequestration cuts might hurt them, and law enforcement officers predicted dire consequences.
- In Carroll County, Ohio, which is just west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and experiencing an influx of people from the shale gas boom in the area, the Sheriff's Office reports that the current cuts in justice assistance grants “removed two officers from road patrol, leaving at times only one officer on a shift to patrol 388.59 square miles. Incident reports since 2010 have increased by 32.3 percent…Loss of personnel will cause lengthier response times and diminish overall security for county residents.”
- A Tennessee drug and violent crimes task force wrote, “We have already reduced our work force by a third due to cutbacks in funding. To put it simply, further funding cuts of seven to nine percent yearly (as sequestration requires) will eventually put us out of business...There will be no one in our district to step up and do the job we have been doing.”
- “Victims and citizens do not want to hear that their safety is being jeopardized due to lack of funds and resources,” responded the Wilton Manors Police Department, which serves a region just north of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The survey, says Elizabeth Pyke, director of government affairs at the National Criminal Justice Association, will hopefully remind Congress that criminal justice programs have already sustained big cuts in the last few years.
“These programs have already been cut 43 percent and those cuts have already had an effect on public safety,” Pyke says. The additional cuts mandated by sequestration, the report notes, “could leave the federal-state-local public safety partnership virtually unfunded by 2021.”
Congress will address the automatic cuts when members return to Washington, D.C., following the November elections.