Controversy Looms Over Stimulus Justice Spending


State and local law enforcement wants an infusion of nearly $4 billion in the pending federal economic stimulus bill as critics say the money would be spent with little oversight and could hurt state and local budgets in the long term, reports Police chiefs, drug enforcement agents and other law enforcers, warning that crime spikes during recessions, say they will be forced to cut back on operations, lay off officers or, in some cases, close their doors without federal aid.

Critics like Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union say that, “Without better monitoring of tax dollars, it's almost certain that much of the money [now being spent on anticrime programs] is being wasted.”

Some say the threat of increased crime is being overstated by police officials, noting that crime has trended downward in recent years. Critics say Congress' spending plans focus too heavily on law enforcement and not enough on other programs that could improve public safety, such as education and employment assistance for ex-offenders. They say putting more police officers on the streets will result in more arrests, including nonviolent drug offenders who will fill up already overcrowded jails and prisons, straining government budgets further. Federal grants have generated controversy because some are used to fund hundreds of “multi-jurisdictional drug task forces” that operate across county lines (and sometimes state lines) to intercept drugs and arrest traffickers. Critics say the task forces, because of their cross-jurisdictional structure, enjoy virtually unchecked law enforcement power that has been abused, and remain unaccountable for how they spend money.

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