Boston Violence Spurs Call for Funds Shift: Anti-Terrorism $ for Community Policing
"Certainly (terrorism) is a very real threat and a significant concern of ours, and we certainly appreciate the homeland security dollars we're receiving from the federal government. "But we can't abandon our community policing strategies at the same time," Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole told the Boston Sunday Globe.
The murder count in the city has nearly doubled from this time last year. High-profile shootings have included the wounding of an 11-year-old boy shot in a South End park while playing football, the killing of a youth basketball coach during a daylight game, and a triple homicide of three young men who were sitting in a minivan.
The department had lost 114 officers since 2001, or nearly 6 percent of the force, and O'Toole attributed that to a shift in emphasis from supporting police on city streets to homeland security. Grants for community policing have fallen sharply, O'Toole said.
"The numbers are clear ... we have substantially less community policing money and we expect that will continue to decline," she said.
Homeland security aid has been coming the city's way, but O'Toole said the department is sharing that $16 million with eight other regional agencies, and can spend it only on terror-related equipment and training.
"We can't spend it to put cops on the street," she said.
President Bush's budget request for this fiscal year proposes an 87 percent cut in the community policing grant program nationally, from $748 million to $97 million.
Marc Short, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Domestic Preparedness, said it was up to local government to carry its share of the financial burden for policing.
"Both Congress and the administration have determined that homeland security should be a shared responsibility between the federal government and state government," Short said. "We have made an unprecedented investment in the operational side: training, equipment, and exercises for antiterror training. The state is responsible for the structural side, meaning facilities and personnel."
But O'Toole got support from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who said last week: "The problem is, we're so focused on homeland security ... that we can't forget what our priority should be: more cops on the street, more money for community policing, street workers, all the programs that help a city fight crime."
She also received support from Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn. Flynn, who was the police chief in Arlington, Va., - home of the Pentagon - during the 2001 attacks, said Washington's spending on homeland security training at the expense of local police departments was like buying a fancy car radio and tires before buying a car.
"Everything that the police and fire services did at the Pentagon rose out of their core mission; we didn't do new homeland security stuff," Flynn said.
"The problem is there have been a lot of restrictions on homeland security money ... That has been creating a lot of frustration."
David Kennedy, a researcher at the Criminal Justice Policy and Management Program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, also agreed.
"What has happened since 9/11 is that we've been taking resources to protect rich white folks against threats that almost certainly won't come to pass, and taking those resources away from poor minority folks who face danger every day," Kennedy said.
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