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Poor economy threatens police jobs, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder says

October 24, 2011 |  1:24 pm

Eric Holder
Years of recession and a slow economic recovery could lead to a decrease in the number of police officers, the first such drop in a quarter of a century, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. warned Monday.

The dire prediction, contained in a Department of Justice report, comes on the heels of a Federal Bureau of Investigation report that the overall crime statistics for 2010 had dropped, continuing a recent trend. Violent crime fell 6% from 2009 to 2010, the fourth consecutive year of such declines, and property crime fell 2.7% from 2009, marking the eighth consecutive annual decrease, the bureau said.  

Holder noted the drop in his prepared remarks to the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, which is holding its annual conference in Chicago.

“Because of your efforts, national crime trends are heading in the right direction. In our inner cities, rural areas and tribal communities, neighborhoods have been transformed. Countless lives have been improved and saved. And, despite growing budget constraints and increasing demands, so many of your precincts and departments are not simply surviving. They are thriving.”

But Holder also warned that the latest report by the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services office, or COPS, showed that nearly 12,000 police officers and sheriff’s deputies will be laid off because of budget cuts this year. In addition, police agencies have nearly 30,000 unfilled vacancies.

“In 25 years of collecting data, we are now seeing the first ever national decrease in law enforcement positions,” Holder said.

According to the COPS report, an estimated 28,000 officers and deputies have been forced off the job in weeklong furloughs in 2010 as cash-starved agencies tried to make ends meet. More than one-third of the agencies applying for federal grants reported a budget drop of greater than 5% between 2009 and 2011. Nearly a quarter of U.S. cities have made a cut to public safety budgets.

“Of course -- as cities, states and counties confront once-in-a-century financial constraints -- this has never been more difficult,” Holder said of continuing progress against crime. “Across the country, mayors, sheriffs and chiefs have been asked not only to do more with less, but also to make painful budgetary cuts.”

Holder urged the chiefs to support the Obama administration’s jobs package with which Congress is wrestling. Last week, the Senate was unable to pass a $35-billion jobs package for teachers and first responders, as Republicans and Democrats continued to spar over spending cuts and possible revenue increases from taxes.

Last month, the COPS office announced that it wanted $240 million in grants to help cities and municipalities hire or retain about 1,000 officers in 238 agencies and municipalities.

“While I’m excited to see what many of you will be able to accomplish with these investments -- we have not, and will not, forget about the remaining 2,300 agencies that also submitted worthy grant applications. In fact, total requests for COPS hiring dollars were over $2 billion -- a staggering demand when compared to the funds allocated this year,” Holder said.

Of the $4 billion for law enforcement hiring that the Obama administration is seeking, the Senate, controlled by Democrats, has backed $200 million, while the Republican-led House of Representatives has allocated no new funds, according to Holder.

“That is a drastic and unacceptable gap -- one that can't be closed without your immediate attention and assistance,” Holder said.


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Photo: U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, shown speaking in Washington last month, warned Monday that the poor economy threatens the jobs of police officers. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press