Police, fire officials ask for more federal funding

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Department of Justice got together Friday morning at the Show Me Center to discuss how each can work together in the apprehension and prosecution of criminals, crime prevention, and how best to pay for it.

Tracy Henke, a Missouri native who oversees the Bureau of Justice Assistance, said she was there to listen to what local law enforcement agencies need from her department.

"We can sit up in Washington and think we know what you need, but we don't," Henke said.

What most law enforcement agencies said they wanted was the ability to hire more people. All the technology available is useless, they said, unless they have someone to work with it. And they still need money for technology.

Cape Girardeau police Capt. Carl Kinnison said he was there mainly to make the point that funding needs to be increased. The department has received block grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, he said, but since 1997 the amount it gets has been cut by about half.

"It's been a very effective grant for us because it allows us to identify what we need and purchase items based on our needs," he said.

The block grant has enabled the police department to buy items it couldn't afford, from flashlights and radios to computer hardware and software.

Agencies told Henke they need money to staff criminal interdiction programs. They want to see more programs like the one Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan developed, MoSMART, which was funded through the Justice Department. It works, Jordan said, because it is tailored for law enforcement needs in this part of the country.

MoSMART, which stands for Missouri Sheriffs Methamphetamine Relief Team, works because agencies from the local to the federal level work to target meth lab "hot spots."

Jackson fire chief Brad Golden asked that the Justice Department consider that fire departments need help too because fire departments work closely with the police in taking down meth labs. Money is not always available to train firefighters how to dispose of a lab.

Even with budget cuts and working short-staffed, law enforcement is working, Henke said. The national overall crime rate is at a 30-year low. Last year, she said, rape was down 25 percent; theft, 22 percent; assault, 20 percent; and robbery, 27 percent.

"What those statistics mean," she said, "is 200,000 fewer people were robbed, 740,000 fewer people were assaulted and 13,000 fewer women were raped because of you guys and the people you work with on a daily basis."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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