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Friday, July 30, 2004

Our View

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 otherwise.

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 is one.

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.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.