This is a ‘safer’ America?
While President Bush and Vice President
Cheney crisscross the country making hyperbolic boasts of a "safer" America
under their stewardship, the men and women responsible for that safety know
The last federal law enforcement officer
to speak the truth was U.S. Park Service Police Chief Teresa Chambers, who said
she was under-funded and understaffed to protect Washington public places. But
truth got her fired.
Out in the hinterland in large and small
cities, police departments aren’t reluctant to talk straight: Shrinking local
budgets, more security demands ordered by Washington and police officers called
to National Guard duty are cutting traditional local community safety.
Grand and eloquent talk about keeping
terrorism at bay may play well as political bluster. But Americans are closest
to their local law enforcement and measure their security in whether streets are
safe to walk and they can sleep without fear.
According to a nationwide survey by The
New York Times, Cleveland laid off 250 officers. Pittsburgh, a quarter of its
officers lost in three years. Saginaw, Mich., a third gone.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s
Department saw 1,200 deputies laid off in two years, along with closing jails
and releasing prisoners. In Houston, 190 jail guards were laid off.
Those are but a few samples. Several
causes are involved. Local economies that result in fewer community tax revenues
But a major, devastating reason is that
the community policing program originated by President Clinton to pay for
118,000 officers has been virtually gutted by President Bush—the $481 million
program has been cut to $97 million.
A quick survey of Wood River Valley law
enforcement shows, fortunately, that the Blaine County Sheriff’s Department and
police in Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey and Bellevue are generally up to strength,
but are having problems matching force strength to growth in the county.
The White House waves off critics,
claiming funds will instead go to "war on terrorism" programs in Justice and
Homeland Security departments.
To what end?
Military forces in Iraq are stretched
thin. Local police are stretched thin. And even the highly touted "war on
terrorism" at home is rife with holes—manpower shortages, poor planning, inept
coordination between federal agencies. Even Washington’s terror threat color
coding is dismissed by professional police as ambiguous, if not meaningless.
From their lofty, bunker-like Washington
perches, the president and vice president may see a nation that’s "safer."
But to professionals guarding Main Street
U.S.A., the truth points to something else—the "safer" country may merely be
banking on luck to avoid harrowing threats at home.