House Republicans struck at the core of the 1994 anti-crime law Thursday, voting to kill its program to put 100,000 new police officers on America’s streets.
The House Judiciary Committee, in a 21-13 vote along party lines, stripped out the $8.8 billion provided in the 1994 law to help localities hire police officers. It also took the $4 billion the law set aside for crime-prevention programs and $1 billion for separate drug courts, combining all three into one $10 billion law enforcement block grant.
The measure was the last in a series of bills the committee voted on this week. If approved by Congress, their effect would be to roll back most of the crime bill President Clinton signed into law last year after a Herculean fight.
Spokane Police Chief Terry Mangan said that any current congressional action won’t have an impact on the $2 million in federal money committed last year to the city to hire up to 26 new officers.
“The money that Spokane received is not from the crime bill,” Mangan said.
Spokane County Sheriff John Goldman said his department would apply for a block grant if $300,000 in crime bill money promised to his department to hire up to five more deputies is cut.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.
With its action Thursday, the committee took the first step in eliminating some of the president’s most cherished initiatives, including his promise to put 100,000 new police officers on the streets and to establish social programs aimed at preventing young people from turning to crime.
The assault weapons ban, another part of last year’s crime bill, will be the subject of separate legislation in the spring.
The bill “represents the significant step away from last year’s crime bill” that Republicans promised in their “Contract with America,” said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla.
After the crime bill narrowly won congressional approval last August, House Republicans vowed in their campaign manifesto to return to the issue and remove what they called social “pork” from the law, referring to the measure’s crime prevention provisions. They also pledged to give local communities more authority to decide how to spend the money contained in the bill.
Under the GOP plan, cities are no longer required to spend the funds hiring new police officers. Instead, local governments would apply for grants, to be used for police equipment, prevention programs, school security, drug courts, or “virtually any purpose to fight crime and improve public safety,” McCollum said. “It’s a rejection of the `Washington-knowsbest’ mind-set.”
Democrats called the new plan “a $10 billion federal giveaway.”
“We’re committing a real tragedy in law enforcement if we’re going to throw out a program that’s only been in place a few months,” said Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a key supporter of last year’s bill. “The choice is whether we’re going to make America safer by putting 20 percent more police on the streets, or create a $10 billion federal giveaway.”
The block grant program, he said, “does not guarantee that a single police officer will be hired.”
Last year’s legislation divided $21.9 billion roughly evenly among police, prevention and prisons.
The new legislation would provide up to $10.5 billion to the states for prison construction. It would also restrict the right of death-row inmates to appeal their sentences, give the police more freedom in seizing evidence, and require criminals to provide restitution to their victims. It would also require the federal government to pay all costs of jailing illegal aliens.
Democrats on the committee lost a party-line vote to restore the separate funding for hiring new police officers.
“The president made a contract with America too,” Schumer said, referring to Clinton’s campaign pledge to put 100,000 police officers on the street. “This bill would eliminate that guarantee.”
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said that Congress should not take away money for a good program that’s already working.
“Small communities are hiring two or three police officers” and bigger cities are hiring more under the program, Frank said. The communities “who acted in good faith and committed their resources to cops for the next three years now face the possibility that they will lose that funding,” Frank said.
Last year’s law requires localities to put up 25 percent of a new police officer’s salary, with the federal government paying the rest.