Murder rates are edging up in some cities, and police chiefs are complaining that federal officials are cutting back on aid they need to protect their cities, says the New York Times. Yet crime is a non-issue so far in the Bush-Kerry presidential campaign. The Times says crime’s back-burner status is due in part to the fact that crime rates remain well below the levels of the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Once-sharp differences between Democrats and Republicans on some law-and-order issues have become blurred, softening the subject’s political punch for either party. In the Times’s view, the overriding explanation is that crime has fallen under the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: “Willie Horton, the rapist made notorious by Mr. Bush’s father in the 1988 campaign, has been replaced by Osama bin Laden as the poster boy for what ails America.”
The lack of political attention given to much more common crime grates at longtime law enforcement leaders like Hubert Williams, a former police chief and president of the Police Foundation. Williams says the threat of terrorism issue is “an emotional hot-button” that diverts politicians from addressing gun violence and drug trafficking, even as police departments are pressed to devote more money to counterterrorism. “We’ve got serious problems that are not being addressed on the crime front, and neither party is doing much to deal with it,” he said. “There’s a real frustration within the law enforcement community that these issues are not even being discussed.” National polls show that people still worry deeply about the threat of crime against themselves and their families, ranking it among their top national priorities. While the F.B.I.’s most recent crime report in May showed an overall decrease in violent crime, murders were up 1.3 percent nationwide. Local police departments complain that since Sept. 11, 2001, policy makers in Washington have expected them to shoulder a growing financial burden for homeland security. The Bush administration has proposed deep cuts in federal grant programs to finance local police personnel, equipment and training, with hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts in the COPS program, launched by the Clinton administration.