< Return To Hearing
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
United States Senator
Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Today, the Committee returns to the critical issue of finding the best strategies for reducing crime. I chaired a hearing in the last Congress on this issue, and we now consider what the next steps can and should be.
We will hear about innovative approaches that are working in police departments and criminal justice systems across the country, and examine what the Federal Government can do to encourage the adoption of approaches that work to keep our communities safe. I hope we can make bipartisan progress on this issue. We all want to effectively and efficiently reduce crime and keep our neighborhoods safe.
In the 1990s, with the leadership of then-Senator Joe Biden and others, we passed legislation to create and fund the COPS program and other important initiatives, which put thousands of new officers on the street and encouraged innovative policing strategies. Law enforcement leaders in cities and towns throughout the country, bolstered by this national support, revolutionized the way policing was done throughout the country. These efforts led to the unprecedented drops in violent crime we saw during the 1990s.
That progress stalled in the last decade as Federal funding for state and local law enforcement dried up, and Federal attention to finding the best approaches to reducing crime wavered. Rates of crime stayed largely stagnant, despite skyrocketing incarceration rates, and some communities saw significant resurgences in violent crime.
One of the factors that prevented the crime problem from worsening in the last decade was continuing innovation at the local level. Enterprising police chiefs, hard working law enforcement officers, judges and community leaders worked together to find new and more effective crime reduction strategies, and many communities saw this work pay good dividends.
The economic downturn has put an even greater strain on our communities' efforts to keep crime rates down. In response to this growing crisis, Congress and the President acted decisively, including $4 billion in Federal assistance to state and local law enforcement in last year's stimulus legislation. I fought hard for that funding, and the results are already being felt. Crime rates are coming down as police departments are adding or retaining officers and implementing new initiatives.
Even with this help, though, police departments and criminal justice systems remain short on resources. More money alone will not solve the problem. It is important that cities and towns use their resources in the ways that have been proven to work best.
We will hear today from leaders in the field who have been setting good examples for how our communities can make their law enforcement and crime reduction efforts work well. Chief Mike Schirling from Burlington, Vermont, has brought significant innovation to a small city police force. He has implemented comprehensive community policing and partnerships with all levels of law enforcement and with schools and community groups. He is exploring the use of alternative sanctions to set low-level offenders on the right path before they enter the criminal justice system, targeted programs to address mental health needs, consolidation of resources to help police departments function more efficiently, and the use of new technology to share information more effectively.
Chief Rodney Monroe has made great progress in Richmond and now Charlotte with initiatives like using technology to pinpoint law enforcement efforts and integrating law enforcement with economic development and job training. Colonel Dean Esserman has made Providence into a national leader in community-based policing. Chief Patrick Berarducci has also brought innovation to a small city police force.
There are good examples from across the country. Cities like Los Angeles and Chicago are seeing results with gang outreach and mediation initiatives. Thinkers on crime reduction strategy like Jeremy Travis and David Kennedy with the National Network for Safe Communities have helped communities throughout the country effectively tackle intractable crime problems. The HOPE program in Hawaii has shown that probation supervision with swift and certain consequences can greatly reduce recidivism. Many jurisdictions have had great success with juvenile prevention and reentry programs.
Today's witnesses come from communities that look like much of America and prove that innovative and effective crime reduction approaches are not restricted to the biggest cities with the greatest resources. I hope that by highlighting these successes, we can encourage other communities to follow their lead.
I believe the Federal Government can and must help by spreading the word about strategies that work, and also by targeted funding and support. We have seen in Burlington and in many other cities that an initial Federal investment can make possible initiatives that would not be possible otherwise. These programs are inexpensive and cost effective. Over time, they should more than pay for themselves by reducing the costs of crime, improving local economies and creating jobs, and reducing the need for federal assistance.
I know there is disagreement about Federal support for state and local law enforcement. I hope there can be broad bipartisan agreement on supporting cost effective strategies that work to keep our communities safer.
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