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Sunday, September 10, 2006

The cost of "Free" Federal Aid

My little Podunk town just got two new police cars. The ve­hicles were paid for by (are you ready for this?) the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Ah. "Free" federal loot. Who can re­sist?
My own dear Podunkville also has a recent history of suspicious deaths that have gone severely un- or under-investi­gated.
Yet Podunkville and its neighboring communities (who share the suspicious death problem) have plenty of resources to bust pot smokers and ding motorists for not wearing seatbelts. Not only that; they get an ever-flowing stream of federal money and equipment to encourage them to go after non-violent, but politically un­popular, lawbreakers while dangerous crimes go unsolved.
You gotta wonder about the priorities. And not just here. Around the nation, something strange is going on.
The overall violent crime rate has been dropping for years. Yet arrests and in­carceration rates are soaring. The United States now imprisons a far larger percent­age of its population than any nation on earth. We have more than one quarter of all the world's prisoners. Even Rwanda and Russia, once close competitors, can't keep up with us. And the apparent gulf between crime and punishment is actu­ally even stranger than it seems. On Janu­ary 18, 2006, the Christian Science Monitor reported:
Federal statistics reveal that the na­
tion's "clearance rate"—the percentage of
cases for which police arrest or identify a
suspect—has fallen dramatically. ...
The arrest clearance rate for report­
ed homicides recently dropped to about
sixty percent compared with about ninety
percent fifty years ago. This means that a
murderer today has about a forty percent
chance of avoiding arrest compared with
less than ten percent in 1950. The record
for other FBI Index Crimes is even more
dismal: The clearance rates have sunk to
forty-two percent for forcible rape, twen­
ty-six percent for robbery, and thirteen
percent for burglary and motor vehicle
theft, all way down from earlier eras.
Violent crime, down. Imprisonment, up. The percentage of violent criminals be­ing punished for their deeds, down—dra­matically.
Nobody knows what the drop in the clearance rates actually means. But the statistics seem to back what I'm seeing here at home: Police are focusing more and more of their efforts away from tra­ditional, violent crimes of the kind that people report to 911. Instead, they're ar­resting literally millions of Americans for personal vices and other non-violent, but politically incorrect behaviors.
Why? I say follow the money.
No federal agency ever paid the Po­dunkville P.O. to figure out that a local man probably didn't "commit suicide" when all the gunshot residue was on his friend's hands, not his own. No federal grant offered training to help our police notice the tiny, almost bloodless .22 bul­let hole in the "heart attack" victim's back before allowing the owner of the conve­nience store where she died to sanitize the crime scene. The Pentagon never gave neighboring police special equipment to look for graves in the backyard of a home where several guests blatantly disap­peared.
But, if these very same local police agencies say they need help to eradicate pot, enforce gun bans or make sure little Jennifer is properly belted into mom's SUV, money, assistance and training flow because those are among the national causes du jour.
Here's a tiny sampling of federal pro­grams for local law enforcers, from New York to (no kidding) North Pole, Alaska:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms is deputizing 100 newly hired
New York state police officers. The plan:
to send these local police from a firearms-
unfriendly state into more gun-friendly
states (primarily southern) to make ar­
rests for "gun trafficking."
Under the Transportation Equity Act
for the 21st Century, the federal govern­
ment awards grants to states that can
show that they have a high, or improving,
rate of "seat-belt compliance." This has
encouraged thousands of police agencies to divert resources for two weeks out of every year to the "Click It or Ticket" na­tional seat-belt mobilization.
The U.S. Army administers a pro­
gram for the Office of National Drug
Control Policy (ONDCP) to give a myriad
of free equipment to local police. Accord- J
ing to the ONDCP's own annual report, s
86 percent of this equipment has gone to |
"smaller jurisdictions."
Byrne Grants from the U.S. Justice 1
Department give money to local juris- '
dictions in 29 "purpose areas." Nearly ;
all these purposes are drug-war related j
or deal with current "hot button issues"
such gang-resistance education or estab­
lishing prison industries.
Whether you're for or against the drug war, and whether you buckle your seat belt or not, it makes little sense to have the federal government actually luring law enforcement away from investigat­ing and solving violent crimes. Yet that's what's happening.
Even when the federal government doesn't directly tell local police what they can or can't do, the cost of "free" federal money is still high.
It's true, thank heaven, that the USDA isn't forcing the Podunkville P.O. to use its new police cars to investigate broccoli thefts or sneak up on farmers who plant an acre of wheat beyond what their fed­eral allocation allows. But how many IRS, USDA, and other federal bureaucrats re­ceived salaries, vacation pay, pensions, health benefits and cubicles in big, expen­sive office buildings so that Podunkville could acquire "free" squad cars? How much more of your money was taken to finance those vehicles federally, rather than locally? How much more did your community suffer from violent crime so that local people's money could be spent in Washington, DC, on its way to Podun­kville?
Then there's the issue of communi­ties being so eager for federal funds that they get more law enforcement than they need.
The Clinton-era COPS program, for in­stance, promised to put 100,000 more po-

32 S.WJLT. JUNE 2006


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where do I get in line? I can use some cash.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the concern over more cops in St. Paul, I can't believe people are not talking about this in the context of maybe this is happening here in St. Paul in some form and maybe that is part off the reason that there are not enought cops to do the job properly.

Or maybe people just really don't care.

5:58 PM  

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