Virginia Coalition of Police
and Deputy Sheriffs
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Law enforcers say Bush's budget would hurt
By William Douglas; Knight Ridder Newspapers WASHINGTON
With 82 gangs boasting 1,500 members that roam his suburbs, Gerald E.
Connolly, the board chairman of Fairfax County, Va., was thrilled when
President Bush announced last month a new $150 million program to reduce
gang membership across the country.
But the thrill was gone when Connolly saw Bush's proposed $2.6 trillion
federal budget a few days later, because it proposed to cut hundreds of
millions of dollars in aid to state and local programs that help troubled
youngsters and anti-gang efforts.
"He's offering modest assistance on one hand, while proposing draconian
reductions on the other hand in terms of intervention and prevention
said Connolly, a Democrat. "It's a good thing to have $150 million, and it
provides good public relations cover. But the only additional resources
they're providing is $150 million over three years for the entire country?"
Many lawmakers and law enforcers say Bush's proposed spending cuts will
have a devastating impact on needed programs at a time when youth gangs
present a pervasive nationwide problem.
There are about 21,500 gangs nationwide with more than 731,500 members,
according to a 2002 Justice Department study. The report also states that
gang membership dropped by 14 percent between 1996 and 2002.
But many law enforcement experts say the Justice Department statistics are
outdated. They say the numbers don't reflect a growing gang problem fueled
by poverty, a return to the streets of older gang members released from
prisons, a growing immigrant population and the rise of foreign-based gangs
such as El Salvador's Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13.
Bush spotlighted the problem in his State of the Union address, when he
assigned his wife, first lady Laura Bush, to oversee his three-year, $150
million program. But then he unveiled those proposed budget cuts. Among
*He would slash the Community Oriented Policing Services program from
million this year to $22 million in fiscal 2006. COPS gives local law
enforcement agencies federal money to hire more police and improve their
*He would eliminate the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program, which
provided $54 million this year to help prosecutors address gang, drug and
*He would cut more than $412 million from education, after-school and family
support programs that help youth stay away from gangs, according to Sanford
A. Newman, president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a Washington-based
coalition of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and crime victims.
"The unfortunate fact is we were making significant headway in controlling
gang activity," said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at
Boston's Northeastern University. "The cuts are unfortunate because gang
activity has made a resurgence.
"What will $150 million buy you? Maybe $10 per kid," Fox said. "You look at
the cost and devastation that gang violence brings, and $150 million sounds
like a token amount for something for Laura Bush to do. It's a feel-good
White House officials say that the new program and the proposed budget cuts
reflect a shifting of resources from methods that haven't worked to a new
approach that highlights local programs that get results.
"A lot of the reductions in juvenile justice are in programs that are
earmarked" -- protected politically in Congress -- "meaning you can't target
revenues where the greatest needs are," said Trent Duffy, a White House
"And it's time to try new approaches while gang involvement is growing."
March 6, 2005