Police funds slashed  

Shift to homeland security dries up community policing cash

click to enlarge Don St. Andre, (15) paints over some graffiti for Workout, - Ltd. The removal program is threatened by loss of grant - money. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Don St. Andre, (15) paints over some graffiti for Workout, Ltd. The removal program is threatened by loss of grant money.

Federal program cuts scratched the community face of the Colorado Springs Police Department this year when grant money earmarked for local crime prevention programs was slashed by 50 percent.

The move is an apparent shift away from the community-policing trend of the 1990s while it pours funds into local and national terror-fighting efforts.

The Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, distributes funds nationwide to bolster community efforts to reduce crime. Programs funded typically include strengthening neighborhood police beats and fostering at-risk youth education. This year Colorado Springs received $160,270, down from $321,739 in 2003.

"They're drawing back on local funds," said Colorado Springs Police Chief Luis Velez, referring to the Department of Justice. "There's a shift from block grant funding to funding for homeland security."

While Colorado Springs community policing grants withered this year, federal funds for homeland security, provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, skyrocketed. The city's police and fire departments received nearly $2 million in 2004, up from just $137,000 in 2003, said Steve Dubay, director of the city's Office of Emergency Management.

Congress created the LLEBG program for community grants in the 1990s as part of President Bill Clinton's pledge to put 100,000 new police officers to work and boost community involvement in policing.

Youth at risk

In the past, block grants allowed communities to tailor programs to local needs. In Colorado Springs, this has resulted in funding for a variety of expanded police beats, equipment and programs, including a law enforcement training corps for Harrison School District 2 and a graffiti-removal program staffed by at-risk youth and youthful offenders.

"A lot of these kids never had structured environments," said Rob Burrs, executive director of Workout, Ltd., a nonprofit organization that runs the graffiti-removal program. "The kids learn a lot of social skills and teamwork," he said. Life skills help keep at-risk youth from committing crimes.

But Workout, one of a handful of community programs that received federal block grant money this year, expects that funding to fall to zero next year. "Unless we find an alternate source of funding, [the program] will go away," Burr said, terming it a communitywide loss. "We need to serve these kids ..."

Shift to homeland security

However, the police chief maintains that while federal funding for nonprofits will disappear in 2005, the department still plans to focus on programs to benefit youth.

Nationwide, the pool of money Congress appropriates for community-policing grants is drying up.

This week Congress allocated just $115 million in LLEBG grants, down from $260 million in 2003 and $418 million in 2001. In addition, more than half of the jurisdictions that received grants in 2001 received no money in 2004. Sheila Jerusalem, a spokeswoman at the Department of Justice, said, "There was some overlap between what LLEBG is funding and homeland security has funded."

Locally, however, the Colorado Springs Police Department budget isn't feeling the pinch from a reduction in community-policing grants. "2004 is one of our most robust years for getting grants," said Tom Albertson, the police department's fiscal and planning manager, referring to more than $9 million in grants for upgraded radio communications, domestic violence response, homeland security and other items such as a half-million-dollar award from the Department of Justice to begin to outfit the Pikes Peak Metro Crime Laboratory for DNA forensic analysis.

But for local community groups like Workout's graffiti removal program, the boom in homeland security money and these types of grants won't help to keep their doors open next year.

-- Dan Wilcock


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