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The Bush administration is proposing deep cuts in federal aid to state and local law enforcement, while asking Congress to bolster the FBI’s anti-terrorism efforts, as part of its 2008 budget request for the Justice Department. According to the proposal sent to Capitol Hill last week, total discretionary funding for the department would rise slightly to $21.8 billion from an estimated $21.5 billion in the current year. But funding for state and local law-enforcement assistance would be cut from $1.8 billion to $542 million under the plan. Targeted funding for a number of programs, including drug courts, prison rape prevention, and finding missing Alzheimer’s patients would be zeroed out. Instead, recipients of those funds would have to win funding through a competitive grant process. “It will be a competition,” says William Moschella, the Justice Department’s principal associate deputy attorney general. “And those programs that are successful and submit to this competitive process . . . will continue to be funded.” The proposal has drawn criticism from organizations representing local police. “Crime is going up and funding has been cut year after year,” says Meredith Mays, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, citing an FBI report showing violent crime increased 3.7 percent during the first half of 2006. Though the budget includes funding for a new $200 million program to reduce violent crime, Mays says the plan pales in comparison to cuts in other funding, such as the broad-based Edward Byrne grants and grants to assist state and local governments that have detained illegal aliens on criminal charges. Congressional appropriations committees are expected to begin addressing the 2008 proposals in the coming weeks, even as the Senate is still working to finish a final appropriations bill for 2007. The debate over aid to state and local police has played out a number of times in recent years. The Bush administration, struggling to fund two expensive wars and facing large budget deficits, has typically attempted to cut grant funding to local law-enforcement programs. Then, members of Congress, responding to pressure from police forces in their districts, restore portions of the money. That dynamic has changed somewhat, with Democrats now controlling Congress. One key Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee has indicated he’ll not only resist cutting federal aid but seek to boost it from current levels. The reduction in federal assistance has been a “major contributing factor to the rise in violent crime,” Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said in a statement to Legal Times. “We are not giving our states and localities the help they need.” Some Congressional Republicans have also indicated they’re unwilling to stomach the cuts suggested by the White House. “We look forward to working with the Democrats to make sure that law enforcement and border security are fully funded,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement issued by his office. The White House’s budget again proposes virtually eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a DOJ office known as the COPS program that opened during the Clinton administration with the goal of putting 100,000 new police on the streets. During its peak, from 1995 to 2000, COPS received $7.9 billion in federal funds. Though its police hiring goal was accomplished years ago, the office has continued to receive reduced funding — despite White House efforts to kill the program outright. That’s because the program has remained popular with members of Congress of both parties — who have used the office as a vehicle for delivering earmarked grants to institutions in their districts. The White House’s current request includes just $4 million for new COPS grants. Funding for two other major Justice Department programs that send funding to localities to combat domestic violence and sexual assault and support juvenile-justice programs would also be cut, though less significantly. Less controversial is President George W. Bush’s plan to spend more on the Justice Department’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence efforts. If the plan is approved, the FBI would see its overall budget expand nearly 9 percent over the present year’s spending estimate to $6.4 billion, which includes more than $200 million in additional national security funding for the bureau and the hiring of 230 new national security agents. Additionally, the Justice Department’s National Security Division would add 34 new attorneys to help provide oversight of intelligence gathering and counterterrorism efforts. Also included in the budget proposal is an additional 23 attorneys for the Justice Department’s Civil Division to handle litigation stemming from the government’s detention of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay. Under the Military Commissions Act passed last year, some of those detainees will be tried by a military tribunal, but the detainees will have the right to appeal decisions in those cases to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Civil Division has also been responsible for trying to fend off the habeas petitions of Guantánamo detainees seeking hearings in federal district court. An additional spending measure sent to Congress the same day as the White House’s budget proposal is a request for $1.7 million to detail assistant U.S. attorneys and support staff to Guantánamo Bay to assist military lawyers in the war-crimes trials of 14 “high-value” detainees held there, including alleged Sept. 11 masterminds Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Though that funding will be directed through the Justice Department’s new National Security Division in Washington, a spokesman from the department says prosecutors will be recruited from U.S. attorney’s offices around the country. The prosecutors are to be sent to Cuba immediately, according to the funding request, and could be on detail there for a year or more. Other highlights of the budget request include: • A proposal for 124 additional Civil Division attorneys to handle appeals of rulings by the nation’s immigration courts.

• Funding for 73 more prosecutors with the goal of bringing additional child exploitation and pornography cases at U.S. attorney’s offices across the country. • Hiring of an additional 20 immigration judges to handle the nation’s growing immigration caseload.

 
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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