via the states in 2003 -- was that at the same time funding was expanding dramatically in some cases for homeland security equipment and programs, at the same rate or even more rapid rate, funding for criminal justice generally, and law enforcement specifically, was dramatically being scaled back," he said.

Police are in a position to provide homeland security intelligence, Flynn continued, but they're so tied up with their core responsibilities that they can't develop relationships with the community.

"By removing our ability to consistently interact with them to buy bunkers or explosion detection vehicles -- or whatever the hell -- you're removing from us our ability to develop street-level intelligence about ongoing suspicious conditions," he said. "The same people who want to tell us about drug dealers will tell us about terrorists if they trusted us and knew us.

"Our position is the core missions of police and fire are the same regardless of the cause," he continued. "The police respond to threats, try to prevent threats through the development of intelligence, and they have to have both a tactical and strategic capability. Fire departments deal with HAZMAT incidents and fires and explosions. Who the hell cares who did it?"

The Bush administration submits a yearly budget that hacks away at COPS funding. For the most part, Congress restored some of that funding before those budgets became law, but the COPS hiring grants and MORE grants disappeared altogether. Overall, COPS grants and State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance grants, the two main pots of federal justice money, fell from $4.4 billion in 2001 to $2.5 billion in 2006. As of May 2007, the fiscal 2007 justice funding was still up in the air.

Congress has fought to keep justice funding levels near what they were for 2006, fending off the administration's attempt to cut back again.

"The question is will the money be there," said Gary Cooper, vice president of Research and Consulting for CJIS GROUP. "We see authorizing bills, but as far as money is concerned, it's just smoke and mirrors. Until you appropriate it, it doesn't mean anything."

 

Alarming Trends
Along the way, violent crime began to rise again.

Between 2004 and mid-2006, the murder rate reached a 20-year high in Cincinnati and a 16-year high in Fairfax County, Va., according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR). In Boston; Richmond, Calif.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Springfield, Mass., the murder rate was at a 10-year high.

In 2005, robbery and aggravated assault increased to a 14-year high. In a 2005 National Crime Victimization survey, attempted robbery with injury was up by nearly 36 percent. Even in Seattle, where violent crime is usually low, there was a 25 percent increase in gun crimes. Robbery is also up in many parts of the country, according to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

UCR statistics for 2005 showed arrests of juveniles for robbery increased by more than 11 percent and were deadlier. Youths look for iPods and use a technique called "rat packing," where the robbers use their cell phones to call their mates and coordinate when to swarm on a victim. Particularly alarming to police is the fact that many of the victims were shot without provocation after the robberies, according to the PERF report. 

It's the inner cities where gangs are resurging, and the mixture of youth and guns is creating a volatile mix. With a decreasing police presence, the seeds for more violence get planted, police say.

"The problem is when we are not available in public spaces, citizen fear increases, which undermines community confidence in cities and sometimes their economic viability, and that's happening in a lot of midsize cities," Flynn said. "It's less of a factor in a New York or a Chicago than it is in a

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor