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Show respect for police in US by restoring full grant funding

Friday, May 22, 2015

More than 10,000 police offi- cers from across the U.S. solemnly gathered in New York City days after the Feb. 26, 1988, ambush of Queens police officer Edward R. Byrne. A triggerman for New York drug lord Howard “Pappy” Mason shot Byrne five times in the head at point-blank range while the rookie patrolman sat alone in his cruiser in a drug- and gang-infested neighborhood.

Twenty-seven years later, the legacy of 22-year-old Byrne’s supreme sacrifice in carrying out his commitment to his community remains aptly memorialized in a federal program designed as a tool to battle the nation’s war on drugs and as a protective shield for the men and women in blue who fight those battles daily.

The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, established in 1988 through the Department of Justice, provides funding to local law enforcement agencies to pay for equipment, technology and training.

In the Mahoning Valley, the Byrne JAG Program has funneled more than $2.6 million to the Youngstown Police Department over the years. In 2014, about $290.9 million in JAG funding was allocated with $8.9 million of it flowing to Ohio.

Those millions of dollars have enabled agencies to purchase critically needed equipment such as body cameras, to hire additional officers and to implement proven effective community policing initiatives.

Today, as the heroin epidemic in our community and our nation has rocketed out of control and as police-community relations have been strained to the max, the critical grant program is needed more than ever. Clearly now is not the time for the federal government to retreat from its commitment to maximizing law enforcers’ ability to efficiently carry out their life-threatening duties.

But such an untimely retreat is precisely what Republican congressional leaders are seeking by slashing $24 million in JAG funding from the proposed 2016 federal budget.

That hasty action has rightly raised the dander of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, who has fired off a letter of complaint to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. In the letter, signed by 16 other U.S. senators, he convincingly argues that the funds be restored. We add our voice to Brown’s legitimate protest.

New technology

Brown recently reinforced his case at a press conference with Youngstown police, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and other Valley law enforcers. “Instead of slashing funding at time when departments are struggling, we should be investing in expanded law enforcement training and new technology like body cameras,” he said.

Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees and Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene offer additional ammunition to reinforce Brown’s attack on the cutback.

Lees said the YPD has used the Byrne funding for training, hiring and equipment. “None of us wants to see these grants go away,” he said.

Greene said the Byrne funds have paid for new pistols and body cameras for deputies. “This is a grant we have come to rely on,” the sheriff stressed.

Multiply Greene’s reliance on the funding hundreds of times over across the nation, and one can begin to fathom the vital assistance the Byrne grants provide to cash-strapped law enforcement agencies. Congressional budget drafters should recognize the same and restore the funding post haste. In so doing, they would provide a small but critical boost to the efficiency of our nation’s police while preserving the positive legacy of Edward R. Byrne and the thousands of other fallen officers he represents.