The massive reallocation of American law enforcement funding to anti-terrorism coincides with an economy that has been in recession and has only recently exhibited signs of a turnaround. The manifest impact of existing budget cuts such as those striking the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department finds politicos demanding that more resources be committed to concerns conventionally thought to be outside of terrorism or COPS spheres, which puts even more strain on law enforcement resources.
For example, at the L.A. Sheriff's Department, deputies are augmenting custody personnel to the probable exclusion of additional patrol personnel. Additional contingency plans for projected shortfalls in the department include everything from the dissolution of various investigative bureaus to the closure of whole stations.
Already, the National League of Cities, whose members recently descended on Washington to press for more money, says that more than half the 345 municipalities surveyed reported that fiscal pressures were forcing them to raise fees, tap their reserve funds, or lay off employees, including police officers, firefighters, and other first responders.
Consequently, many agencies are trying to do things as economically and politically efficiently as possible. In doing so, they are proving that environmentalists do not have the monopoly on "think globally, act locally" pragmatism.
Just as multiagency task forces profit through shared resources, so do various ad hoc public safety committees composed of various arms of EMS services come together for a greater good. Among the byproducts: increased mutual understanding and respect, open lines of communication, and increased public support.
Michigan Rep. Mike Nofs, a former 25-year veteran of the Michigan State Police, believes that the Bush Administration has made a "gallant effort" in addressing threats to domestic security. Still, he sees room for improvement. Part of the problem is systemic; many officials tend to be stingy with information. Another problem, according to Nofs, is identifying the appropriate media for disseminating information to local agencies and down to the first responders.
Nofs would like to see a greater partnership formed between the private sector and law enforcement, particularly in the communications arena. He envisions a wireless technology system that would integrate different agencies and allow officers to communicate with one another throughout the state.
Such a system would facilitate the handling of large-scale incidents by allowing mutual access between officers of varying expertise to better coordinate one another's responses. Nofs notes that states such as New York and Pennsylvania have improved their communications systems and that Florida now possesses a model information sharing system.
On the West Coast, multiagency networks such as the Terrorism Early Warning Unit disseminate intelligence reports to local law enforcement on a daily basis. Throughout America, agencies are pooling their resources and, in the process, developing stronger ties between themselves and the community.
The Emergency Preparedness Network (EPN) is such a program. A cooperative effort among the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, and California Highway Patrol, the EPN has evolved into a program that assists and trains the community in responding to emergency situations. In the event of a major disaster or terrorist act, common citizens will play a vital role in rendering aid to their neighbors during. EPN also provides critical information to emergency responders such as the names of residents, medical problems or disabilities, and a diagram of the location and potential hazards, which will be useful in either rescue or tactical operations.
Crime on the Rise
While all of these efforts are under way to respond to and perhaps prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack, some experts worry that street crime is not getting the attention that it deserves.
The changing demographic and low birth rate that allowed New York Mayor Giuliani and others to claim credit for a dropping murder rate in 1991 is now going the other way. Many criminologists anticipate a new wave of murderous assaults between 2005 and 2010. These crimes will have little or nothing to do with the current terrorism concerns, but they will tax police resources even further.
Law enforcement has always had its hands full reconciling its priorities with its practices, even in the best of times. But this less accommodating era comes with new aggravations. And one never knows what else is in the cards. For example, in one 24-hour period, Seattle PD went from dealing with Mardi Gras riots to a major earthquake. One can only wonder how other agencies would fare when confronted by simultaneous Jerry Bruckheimer-movie disasters.
When it comes to prioritizing law enforcement's dollar, the answer may be less about how the dollar is doled out between federal and local agencies and under what aegis, than about narrowing the scope of each agency's mission.
Nofs sums it up saying, "As we prioritize in the budget process, public safety has to be up there as number one. Citizens have to feel safe and secure in their communities."
Which means that each agency and municipality must evaluate for itself the tradeoff between terrorism and emergency preparedness and law enforcement's ability to respond to calls for assistance, remove felons from the streets, maintain bomb squads and crime labs, and field adequate patrols.
Dean Scoville is a patrol supervisor with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and a frequent contributor to POLICE.