Attorney General John Ashcroft says preventing another terrorist attack remains the country's top law enforcement priority. But some Senate Democrats are criticizing the attorney general for his plans to scale back a program that helps local communities put more police officers on the street.
Attorney General Ashcroft came before the Senate subcommittee that controls the Justice Department's budget to explain his request for more money to combat terrorism, which he said remains the nation's top criminal justice priority. "To fulfill this mission, we are devoting all resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, prevent terrorist attacks, and bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies," he explained.
The budget request, which most members of Congress will likely support, includes an additional $2 billion for anti-terrorism efforts including more money for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, border protection and courthouse security.
But one program being phased out is the community policing initiative begun in the Clinton Administration, a program that funded the hiring of 100,000 new police officers in local communities around the country.
Bush administration officials say they are cutting federal funding for the program because there is no hard evidence that it has helped reduce the nation's crime rate.
Democrats counter that the community policing program has been effective in bolstering local police departments and are urging the administration to restore the money.
Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State, says the policing program has been particularly valuable in homeland security in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. "We are asking a lot of them to protect citizens in situations none of them envisioned a year ago and cutting the cops program says to them that we are not going to stand behind our commitment to help them," she said. "So I hope that we can reinstate this program in our budget and that we can do the right thing to support the cops that are working so hard to protect our citizens today."
Attorney General Ashcroft agreed with Democrats that the program has been effective. But he says the administration has decided instead to increase funding of other Justice Department programs that will eventually be made available to states and local communities.