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ATF chief: Crime rises as funding falls in cities

Violent crime has increased in some cities in recent years in part because local police are too cash-strapped to fight it, the ATF chief said Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Violent crime has increased in some cities in recent years in part because local police are too cash-strapped to fight it, the ATF chief said Monday.

The comments by Michael J. Sullivan, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, echo pleas by mayors across the country for more federal dollars to combat crime.

Sullivan called battling violent crime the No. 1 priority of ATF and said the agency is trying to help cities with federal task forces and technology. He said many cities no longer have the police manpower to respond to calls as quickly as they once did.

"Some of these jurisdictions that have seen an uptick with regard to violent crime — it's coming at a time when their budgets have been pretty strapped," Sullivan told the AP.

"In fact, some of the jurisdictions have seen a decrease with regard to patrol officers who are available or detectives available to follow up on some of these incidents," Sullivan said. "And that obviously is a compounding effect with regard to what's going on, with regard to crime."

Not enough resources to fight crime
He described funding squeezes in many cities, like Chicago and Detroit, that "contribute to the potential of an uptick with regard to violent crime, because they don't have as many resources to respond as quickly to it as they once did."

Even so, Sullivan said, violent crime rates remain at what he called "record lows."

Murders, rapes and robberies appear to be on the downswing after two straight years of violent crime increases, according to the most recent local police data reported to the FBI.

However, violent crime rose slightly in small cities and rural areas, while murder rates jumped by 5 percent in suburbs and 3.2 percent in mid-sized cities during the first half of 2007, the most recent data available.

Mayors and police chiefs nationwide have long linked surging violent crime to dwindling federal grants that previously paid to hire more cops. The Bush administration, facing its own budget crunch while funding the war and reconstruction of Iraq, has scaled back the money available to cities to crack down on crime.

No money to hire new officers
The Justice Department has offered to spend $200 million this year to combat violent crime in cities, but that likely won't cover the cost of hiring new police officers.

Ron Ruecker, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said federal, state and local funding cuts have forced police to scale back manpower and money devoted to battling gangs, drugs and career criminals.

"Every time we turn around, the staffing pressures that most of us are dealing with are having an impact in these others areas," said Ruecker, the public safety director of the city of Sherwood, Ore., a suburb of Portland, Ore. "You definitely can tie the decrease in funding with an uptick in crime, including violent crime."