Feds plan $200M grant program aimed at helping police curb violent crime
By Kevin Johnson
The Bush administration is proposing a $200 million grant program to help law enforcement agencies respond to surging violent-crime rates in cities across the nation, Justice Department officials said Monday.
The program would help local and state police agencies pay for officers' overtime, equipment and other expenses stemming from new regional task forces aimed at curbing violent crime, Domingo Herraiz, director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance, told USA TODAY.
The task forces would be staffed with federal, state and local officers to deal with a range of growing crime problems, including recent increases in gang-related violence, gun-related crimes and illegal sales of methamphetamine.
The grant plan marks the administration's broadest recognition yet of the threat posed by rising violent-crime rates.
The FBI reports that violent crimes -- homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults -- increased 2.3% nationwide in 2005 compared with 2004, the first such rise since 1991. The trend has continued through the first half of 2006, the FBI reports.
If approved by Congress as part of President Bush's spending plan for the budget year that begins in October, the program also would symbolize a renewed interest in federal funding for local police initiatives, which often have taken a backseat to homeland security programs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The grant program -- known as the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership Initiative -- would not, however, be designed to help police agencies hire new officers.
Instead, it would allow local and state agencies to apply for grants of $30,000-$200,000 to better deploy and equip officers who make up the anti-crime task forces, said Herraiz and Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Justice Department's director legal policy.
Herraiz said dozens of cities could be eligible for the grants. He said agencies applying for grants would have to outline specific strategies to attack violent crime, and show improvements in crime rates to be eligible for further funding.
Police chiefs' groups such as the Police Executive Research Forum have called repeatedly for the White House to reprise the Clinton administration's $8 billion police hiring program that added tens of thousands of officers to the nation's streets.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the group, said the grant program falls well short of that, but "is a step in the right direction."
"It is encouraging that the Justice Department recognizes the significant change in violent crime across the country," he said.
Copyright 2007 Gannett Company, Inc.
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