Twenty years ago, police officer Eddie Byrne was shot in the head five times as he sat in his New York City patrol car. After Congress created the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, the federal government began steering hundreds of millions of dollars to states and cities to help thwart drug traffickers and to buy equipment, everything from armored vests to in-car cameras, McClatchy Newspapers report. President Bush is asking Congress to cut the program, which it says has been unfocused and lacking in accountability.
On Capitol Hill, the battle over the Byrne grants has become one of the first budget fights of the year. Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa are teaming up to oppose the cuts. The politics surrounding the Byrne grants are producing odd bedfellows. While Bond finds himself at loggerheads with a president of his own party, some liberal Democrats have joined the Bush administration in raising questions about the value of the grants. Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said the drug task forces financed by Byrne grants are subject to little federal oversight and that some of them have used racial profiling to pursue drug dealers. In 1999 in Tulia, Tx., dozens of people were sentenced to decades in prison based on the uncorroborated testimony of one drug task force officer. Most of them were pardoned four years later, and the officer was convicted of perjury.