October 26, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Refocus priorities
By†Jody Reese

There was a time when the federal government made a serious effort to work with local police departments to fight crime. Beginning in 1994, the federal government, led by a Republican Congress and a Democrat president, passed sweeping anti-crime legislation. Everything from longer sentences for repeat offenders to more money for crime prevention programs to more money for police officers flowed out of the federal government. In 2001 all that came to a halt.

Led by President George Bush, Congress has cut and cut anti-crime programs from about $4.4 billion in 2001 to less than $1.5 billion for next year. The Presidentís new plan kills the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. That grant is not earmarked for a particular program or use and lets departments decide how to best use the money to fight crime, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

Though itís hard to prove a direct connection, the decrease in federal crime spending has mirrored an increase in violent crime on the national level by 2.3 percent (3.4 percent more homicides) for the year 2005 over 2004. Thatís more than 16,000 Americans murdered. To the south in Boston crime is at a 10-year high. Manchester has faced an escalating series of violent attacks, including the recent murder of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs.

It would be naive to say that the federal governmentís pull-back in local crime-fighting has caused the increase in violent crime, but it would be just as naive to say that it has had no effect.

Five years ago this nation experienced the most traumatic mass murder of our existence. We reacted by creating a federal Homeland Security department, increasing anti-terror funding and launching a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The FBI was retooled to deal more effectively with terror threats and airport security was nationalized. All those actions made sense and still make sense. We need to be free of terrorism.

However, we are a huge nation with plenty of homegrown criminal terrorists who rob us of our freedom, by keeping us out of neighborhoods, keeping us in at night or, worse, robbing us of our lives.

We can not let this terrorism slip from our list of priorities.

President Bush and Congress are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq ó to make the people of Iraq safer. The merits of the war can be (and are) debated, but my point is not to pass judgment on that war but to question the priorities of our federal government. How can we spend $10 billion a month to make the Iraqi people safer, but not $5 billion a year to make Americans in their own communies safer?

I would think that somewhere in the $2.8 trillion 2006 federal budget $5 billion could be found to fight violent crime in our communities.

In a government as capable as ours, itís both possible and necessary to fight crime at home as well as overseas. We must.