Beleaguered cities across the nation, including San Jose, are laying off police officers in a bid to mitigate their budget woes. San Jose, in a first in its history, proposes to lay off more than 100 police officers. San Bernadino, despite a high scrime rate, is also considering laying off officers. While the 2009 federal stimulus program gave local governments $4 billion to protect law enforcement jobs, that money has now run out and cities across the nation are resorting to draconian measures to balance their budgets.
The primary and, some may argue, the only legitimate function of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. That is a fundamental expectation that we have as taxpayers. Laying off police officers defies logic in addressing this fundamental purpose. As history has shown, crime rates increase during economic downturns. A recent survey of 233 police departments by the Police Executive Research Forum found that 100 departments reported rising levels of recession-related crimes.
Yet, we cannot blame the local governments entirely—they are constitutionally required to balance their budgets each year, unlike the federal government. A more effective and useful stimulus program from the Obama administration could have been to simply provide grants to local governments to fund law enforcement and other essential service jobs over a 3-year period. That is what I would have expected out of a community organizer-turned-President.
Then there is the waste. According to the Washington Examiner, the federal government spent the unbelievable amount of $9.5 million dollars to develop a website to track stimulus projects and will spend $8.5 million more to support it through 2014. That is an entire IT budget for many companies in Silicon Valley who actually sell products and services to earn a profit and are mindful of customer experience.
Our local governments are equally culpable; a recent audit found that Los Angeles fails to collect nearly half of its debts to the tune of $260 million from traffic tickets, ambulance services etc. while Orange County spent over $1.1 million to lobby other government officials! The California state government spent $2.6 million to rent a vacant building for two years!
We, as a nation, have some misplaced priorities and incapable leaders that allow indefensible use of our tax dollars. Let us not be shortsighted to lay off police officers who wake up every morning laying their lives on the line for our safety. n
Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
Yes, the police have to contribute to the fiscal health of their community too
Anyone who believes in the premise of a government that is accountable to its people has to answer that question in the affirmative. The federal government is the only entity allowed to run a deficit.
Facing deficits, local governments across the nation have run out of the low hanging fruit like reducing cleaning services, closing parks etc. Now the axe has to fall on the bigger and more sacred cows. Protecting the safety of citizens and enforcing law and order is one of the key functions of the government. But the argument is taken to the extreme, especially at the national level, asserting that safety should be the ONLY function of government, no matter the cost. But now we have a very difficult budget situation. What is a city like San Jose to do?
The mayor and council have already spent countless hours trying to negotiate down the pension and benefits of the police department will little success. We are being asked to pay for the expensive benefit plans or compromise safety. We should reject this Hobson’s choice and look at alternatives.
The cuts being proposed in San Jose are in the region of 10%. At least 5% of the force is made up traffic police. This would the first logical candidate for deep cuts. Are we really safer trapping and ticketing soccer moms and people who might be a tad late on their way work? Even if we think we are, is this a function that can only be achieved by fully pensioned police officers in cruisers?
Let us utilize successful red light camera experiences from San Francisco and others that have worked out the bugs in this program. Using these cameras has reduced accidents in San Diego by 32%. Similar automated enforcement techniques should be borrowed/ developed for other traffic infringements as well.
Next let us take a more holistic approach to crime fighting by targeted programs to go after gangs such as the one successfully implemented by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Cities around the country have been facing budget shortfalls for almost a decade while the cost of maintaining police officers has been steadily increasing. This is a crisis situation and requires radically creative ideas like using internet and social media in high crime areas to receive tip-offs from neighborhood watch groups.
Recession involves shared sacrifices and it is time for police services to do their bit towards fiscal recovery.
Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.