Government

Brown, Police Departments Blast GOP Funding Cuts

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Businesses want the predictability and security that law enforcement provides in the Mahoning Valley, but cuts to federal initiatives such as the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program only jeopardize law enforcement agencies’ ability to provide that security, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown says.

Flanked by Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene, area police chiefs and other criminal justice advocates for a press event at the Youngstown Police Department, Brown pressed his case for reversing cuts to the program, which has provided money for equipment, personnel and training for decades.

The program now provides about $375 million in grants, a figure cut in half over the past decade, Brown said. The budget recently passed by Senate Republicans would reduce funding for the program by another $24 million. Last year, 39 Ohio police departments received Byrne grants totaling more than $15 million, he reported.

“This is a little bit too much of a perfect storm,” Brown remarked.

On top of the decline in the Mahoning Valley’s tax base over the past three decades, local government fund dollars from the state are being cut and now the federal budget proposes cuts to the Byrne JAG program, he explained.

“It’s been a three-decade partnership between the federal government and local police, providing training, body cameras now, whatever equipment that police departments need. To cut the legs out from under them is a problem,” he said.

Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees cited the role the grants played in the Mahoning Valley’s Law Enforcement Task Force, which he headed for several years. “That task force, which has been effective here for almost 30 years, was a product of Byrne grant funding and has been funded every year since in varying levels,” Lees said. The grant funds allow the task force to conduct operations that none of the individual departments could fund by themselves “but collectively with the grant money we’re able to make a regional impact,” he said.

The funds also have been used to hire officers, purchase equipment and train personnel among other uses, he reported.

Last year, Mahoning County received $36,000 received from the Byrne program, the lowest level of funding Sheriff Greene said he could remember. Those funds were used to purchase body cameras, training for officers, and warranties for the equipment, he said.

Police use of body cameras has been found to reduce the use of force by a “significant percentage”around the country, Brown said. “It reduces citizen complaints against police, changing people’s behavior, both police and in the community,” he continued.

The county also used the grant last year to replace sidearms, Greene said.

Brown criticized Republicans for making cuts to programs like the Byrne grants and increasing taxes on the middle class while cutting taxes on higher-income Americans. He joined 17 Senate colleagues in sending a letter to the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee asking his to restore the funds cut from the Byrne program.

“It’s harder and harder for the community to recruit young men and women into police departments, white and black, and part of the reason is the job,” Brown said. “We need to make the job as safe as possible to build that trust in the community. We’re not doing that very well and to cut the legs out from a program like this sends the wrong message to young recruits.”

 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.