Crime Declines While Anti-crime Funding Increases

By Christopher Zoukis 

Crime is down in the United States, but spending measures included in the $1.1 trillion federal budget passed by Congress in January 2014 will ensure that many law enforcement agencies receive more funding.

Insiders give much of the credit for the fiscal year (FY) 2014 funding increases to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, who is known as a strong proponent of crime-fighting expenditures. Senator Mikulski said the expanded funding represents a “truly bipartisan agreement that a significant number of members [of Congress] worked night and day [on] over the holidays.”

The big winners in federal law enforcement spending include the FBI, which received $8.3 billion, an increase of $248.7 million over FY 2013, and the federal Bureau of Prisons, which received $6.77 billion – an increase of $90.2 million.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also getting a boost in funding with a budget of $1.18 billion – more than $49 million over last year.

Little was said about how these funding increases square with the most recent federal statistics on crime, which reflect a decade-long downward trend. Indeed, even as legalization of medical marijuana becomes more commonplace across the nation (as well as legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Washington state and Colorado), the Drug Enforcement Agency’s $2.02 billion budget includes an increase of $9.6 million.

Critics of additional spending on law enforcement note there are few controls in place to monitor the use of federal funds that end up in state and local coffers through programs such as Byrne-JAG grants for police agencies – which received $367 million in funding in the FY 2014 federal budget – and the COPS community policing program, funded at $214 million.

Byrne-JAG grants frequently fund multi-jurisdictional task forces that have little accountability and have been linked to abuses like the mass arrests of black defendants in Tulia, Texas on fabricated drug charges. As funding is often tied to “performance” metrics, programs like HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) grants encourage police to devote an inordinate amount of resources to those initiatives so as to inflate their arrest numbers.

The COPS program has no real controls or accountability either, and instead of such grants being used to put officers on the street, some jurisdictions have used them in whatever manner they want. Criminologist Peter Kraska has reported that “community policing” funds have been used for paramilitary SWAT teams, roadblocks and stop-and-frisk policies.

Notably, federal law enforcement expenditures have increased not only as crime rates and prison populations have dropped, but also as court budgets have declined and public defenders’ offices have laid off employees due to lack of funding.

Sources: www.thecrimereport.com, www.washingtonpost.com

(First published by Prison Legal News and used here by permission)