The shift of federal funds from community policing to homeland security has police departments across the country complaining. What about hometown security?
Arkansas Department of Emergency Management Director David Maxwell doesn't get into that debate. He doesn't think it's fair to think of winners and losers when federal money gets doled out through the departments of Homeland Security and Justice.
“At least from our perspective in Arkansas, it shouldn't be a zero sum game,” Maxwell said. “It shouldn't be: Homeland Security projects win, Justice projects lose. They shouldn't be intertwined.”
But the connection seems hard to avoid. After the Department of Homeland Security was established in the wake of 9/11, a massive amount of funding intended for law enforcement and first responder assistance programs shifted from the Justice Department to Homeland Security.
Much of that assistance has been directed to the Department's Homeland Security Grant Program, grants dedicated to improving preparation for and response to terrorist attacks. At the same time, money for community policing has declined and, with that, the number of cops on the street has declined.
In its second year of operation, in 2004, Homeland Security received more than $3 billion to support the grant program. By comparison, the DOJ's appropriation was about $1.6 billion.
That year, the state Department of Emergency Services — the designated state agency to receive Homeland Security funds — was allocated a record $28 million, according to figures supplied by Tina Owens, the division chief of administration at ADEM. ADEM retained 20 percent of the funds for state projects and agencies and gave the remainder in grants to local jurisdictions.
The bulk of the grants went to purchase equipment for the Arkansas Wireless Information Network, the statewide communications system that would go on line two years later. Owens said the network has enabled first responders to communicate on a statewide system at the command and control level. Without federal help, state and local agencies could not have afforded the equipment, she said.
Maxwell considers the wireless network the crown jewel of what Arkansas has funded through Homeland Security grants. Other grants purchased hazardous material and decontamination equipment, funded bomb teams in Little Rock and elsewhere and enhanced physical security at important locations.
But today, Homeland Security grants to Arkansas, which stood at over $25 million for the first three years the department was in operation, average $7.4 million a year.
Part of the drop is attributable to declines in overall department funding, but Owens said urban areas identified as high-risk are now getting the lion's share of the grant money. None of the 60 high risk urban areas that the department now emphasizes is in Arkansas.
Maxwell said he's talked with the state's congressional delegation and Homeland Security officials about funding formula changes.
Maxwell said terrorism threats in rural areas — such as attacks on crops — while not as immediately dramatic as something that could happen in a major urban area, could still cripple the country.
The Bush administration's proposed 2009 budget slashes the Homeland Security grants nearly $750 million but would increase funding for the Urban Areas Security Initiative $210 million over 2008, or 34 percent.
Whatever funding is eventually allocated to Arkansas, Maxwell said ADEM will be “good stewards” of the grants.
The projects funded thus far through the Homeland Security Grant Program were selected based on need and expected usage immediately or at some point in the future, he said. Some of the equipment, including the communications network, was used recently in the state's response to natural disasters.
“We tried to look and make sure that what has been purchased at the state or local level was something that will be used,” he said, “and not just something that is on a shelf somewhere.”