Byrne program necessary

Published 6:33 pm Monday, December 1, 2008

By Staff
Our state and local law enforcement are on the front lines of preventing and controlling crime.  
For them to be successful, we must ensure they have the resources to carry out their mission of protecting our streets, neighborhoods, children, and loved ones.  
Few would disagree that our law enforcement must have the funding they need to prevent crime and protect our community. Yet, this year, one of the most vital law enforcement programs faced massive cuts by the Department of Justice.  
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Program (Byrne) provides critical funding to state and local law enforcement to train and purchase equipment necessary to effectively carry out their critical responsibilities.  
More important, it allows individual law enforcement offices to determine how best to use these funds. This program can be tailored to fit the various needs and diverse purposes facing communities. Most often used for crime prevention equipment like computers, guns, radios, ammunition, and bulletproof vests, Byrne grants can also be used for law enforcement training programs, prosecution and court programs, education, drug treatment, and witness protection.  
Byrne grants allow state and local governments to support a broad range of activities to prevent and control crime.
Although a clear asset to the criminal justice system, the Department of Justice proposed to eliminate funding for the Byrne grant program in fiscal year 2009.  
These cuts are hitting law enforcement officers in every state and thousands of localities. Rural communities, like the ones throughout Alabama, will likely be the hardest hit, and crime rates will inevitably increase.  
Without this vital federal funding, law enforcement throughout our state will not be able to fund worthwhile crime prevention programs, affecting every community and every resident.
During my 2008 town hall visits, every county's law enforcement personnel made it clear that without adequate Byrne funds, they would not be able to carry out crime control.  
In particular, Alabama's Narcotic Officers Association and District Attorneys were particularly compelling in expressing the results of a cut in federal Byrne funding: a drastic cut to the Byrne grants would cripple the drug task forces that fight the influx of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs. The end result would be an increase in crime rates, recidivism, and dangerous activities throughout the state.
Further, Byrne grants help combat many federal crimes that often fall on local law enforcement personnel to enforce.  
Crime is not deterred by borders, and Byrne funds can be used to combat a variety of crimes that are not confined by state lines. These include interstate drug and gang task forces, programs aimed at combating child exploitation through the Internet, sex-offender registry, and DNA databases.  
State and local crime fighters are part of the community they patrol and have access to intelligence and specific information about local criminals their federal counterparts do not.  
Therefore, they are an essential part of the national strategy to combat major crimes that affect every community. This grant program helps law enforcement officers collect, collaborate, and investigate criminals. Without this type of coordination, it becomes too expensive for states to attempt to capture gang leaders, drug distributors, and child traffickers.  
Eliminating Byrne funding would force law enforcement to severely restrict their work and would put the citizens of Alabama in significant and unnecessary danger.
The federal government's most important role is to protect the citizens of this nation. As the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, which controls the Department of Justice's budget, I will work to ensure that Byrne grant program is properly funded. I simply cannot support the proposed elimination to this critical grant program.
Law enforcement officers at all levels deserve our support as they put their lives on the line for our safety every day.  
We should never stop equipping our crime fighters with the tools they need to combat crime and keep our communities and nation safe.  
I will continue to fight for the restoration of Byrne funding and to ensure our law enforcement officers have the resources necessary to carry out their charges.
Richard Shelby represents Alabama in the U.S. Senate.