The co-chairman of the House Law Enforcement Caucus has criticized a Trump Administration proposal to downgrade the U.S. Justice Department’s 24-year-old Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office.
In its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 that was sent to Congress on Monday, the White House said it planned to fold the COPS agency into DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs and asked Congress to reduce the unit’s budget drastically, from about $137 last year million to $64 million next year for police hiring
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) said in a statement released to the press that “eliminating the COPS Office and slashing funding for the COPS Hiring Program grants in half is an odd way for President Trump to show support for the brave men and women in blue who rely on the office and grants to keep our neighborhoods safe.”
Pascrell noted that 135 House members signed a letter drafted by Pascrell with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) urging Trump to keep COPS an independent agency with DOJ and to maintain its funding. “I will fight these cuts tooth and nail to ensure they do not happen.”
The Justice Department portrayed the plan as an efficiency move, saying that having another agency administer policing grants along with a long list of other federal aid already being dispensed could allow for the elimination of more than 200 jobs in the department, including about one-third of the COPS Office staff.
DOJ contended that the change would “centralize and strengthen the partnerships [the department] has with its colleagues in State and Local law enforcement and to promote community policing not only through its hiring programs but also through the advancement of strategies for policing innovations and other innovative crime-fighting techniques.”
Because Congress this past weekend approved a two-year federal budget, it will now be up to appropriations committees in each house to recommend specific spending amounts for all government programs. Lawmakers may decide to block the plan to slash the COPS program, although they will be under pressure to make budget cuts governmentwide.
Women’s advocacy groups are expected to oppose another section of the DOJ budget that would also transfer grantmaking from the Office on Violence Against Women to the Office of Justice Programs, but only three jobs in the women’s office would be lost, and the annual grant total would rise slightly, to $486 million.
The Justice Department budget proposal reflects Trump administration priorities of fighting the opioid epidemic, combatting violent crime and drug trafficking gangs and providing tough immigration enforcement.
It seeks more than $109 million for local crime-fighting efforts, including $70 million for a partnership with state and local authorities called Project Safe Neighborhoods that targets gun offenders, the Associated Press reports.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, a partnership with U.S. Attorneys’ offices, “would be dramatically increased … from $6.5 million,” says the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA).
The budget proposal would move the tobacco and alcohol-related responsibilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into the Treasury Department, which officials say would eliminate duplicative work and would allow the agency to focus more closely on fighting street crime.
DOJ is asking for $13.2 million and 25 new positions to help “modernize” and speed up the ATF’s ability to register restricted weapons, such as machine guns and suppressors, after a steady increase in applications.
The antidrug budget includes a proposed $31.2 million for eight new “heroin enforcement groups” to be sent to hard-hit Drug Enforcement Administration offices. Additional agents would target Mexican drug gangs.
The proposal requetsts $39.8 million for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts and is experiencing a backlog of immigration cases. That would include 75 new immigration judges and additional attorneys. The administration wants $25 million for a technological boost for the office, which it says still struggles with a “wholly paper-based system that is both cumbersome and inefficient.”
DOJ also would limit annual expenditures from its Crime Victim Fund (called VOCA) to $2.3 billion. The fund was created by Congress in 1984 and is comprised largely of fines paid in federal criminal cases. The fines include huge payments by companies in some major white-collar-crime cases. The fund has amassed more than $12 billion over the years, only a small fraction of which Congress allows to be spent on crime victim aid each year.
The Trump administration is proposing that some of the crime victim fund be used for other purposes, such as projects to reduce violence against women and for grants to fight juvenile crime.
Crime victim advocates may oppose changes in the fund that would divert money intended to aid victims indefinitely to other programs.
“This budget trick must be exposed for its damaging impact on victim services,” said Monica McLaughlin of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “By transferring money out of VOCA into a number of other Department of Justice grant programs, the Administration’s proposal would reduce VOCA victim service funding by over 10 percent.”
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.