Bernard Kerik: Police face coronavirus, riots and now a funding crisis – Congress must help in next relief bill


Every day, even in the scariest and most uncertain days of the pandemic, law enforcement officers across the country show up for work and face the danger to keep the rest of us safe. For their bravery, dozens paid the ultimate price.

Instead of being thanked for their service and sacrifice, they are demonized.

Mobs of left-wing radicals have hurled improvised explosives, rocks and racist epithets at the men and women who form the thin blue line. These anarchists have called for police to be defunded, for whole departments to be disbanded.

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They burned a police station to the ground in Minneapolis and cheered as the flames spread through the surrounding neighborhood. They even created a lawless “autonomous zone” in downtown Seattle, where police were prohibited and crime, predictably, spiraled out of control.

Militants in cities around the country torched and looted thousands of businesses, injured 700 police officers and killed 11 innocent people.

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These scenes of chaos and lawlessness in American streets rightly repulsed most of us. We know the critical role police play in protecting our communities and our way of life.

But the risks faced by law enforcement are not limited to the rioters in the street. They are facing a defunding crisis that wasn’t brought on by Antifa, but by the coronavirus and upcoming state and local budget crises.

Across the country, law enforcement faces massive budget shortfalls, because “stay at home” orders put people out of work, and blew a hole in the revenue those workers generated.

It’s happening in blue and red states, and it should scare all of us.

In New York City where I was chief, the City Council voted to cut $1 billion from the police budget.  That’s devastating to public safety.

The police are being targeted everywhere.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced plans to eliminate the jobs of nearly 200 law enforcement and support staff. Her budget cuts would close 10 critical patrol offices, mostly in rural areas, leaving vast swaths of the state unpatrolled and unprotected.

Law enforcement is burning the candle at both ends to protect public safety and public health, but they can’t do it alone.  

Down south, the situation is just as dire.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state Department of Public Safety already canceled new training classes. The GBI plans to furlough employees and freeze hiring for dozens of others. With this reduced workforce, they’ve already announced they would have to stop investigating serious property crimes like theft and burglary.

In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s backyard, general fund tax receipts by April have fallen nearly $433 million below collections from 2019. Even if Kentucky exhausts its rainy day fund, it may still wind up hundreds of millions of dollars in the red. Unemployment hit historic highs in April, and still remains high at 11 percent, which means occupational taxes that support local law enforcement will be decimated.

America’s law enforcement leaders need our support. It’s not enough for us to stand up against the mobs in the streets. We must demand that Congress fund law enforcement agencies in the next coronavirus relief package.

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Most of the money in the last package never made its way to the people on the front lines of the pandemic. This time we need to make sure that police, sheriffs, courts, prosecutors and the rest of the criminal justice system receive dedicated funding that can’t be siphoned off for someone’s political project.

Federal relief funds are needed to keep law enforcement officers and support staff safe as we face the prospect of a second wave of infections. They need money to prevent the spread of infection in correctional facilities and courts. They need better access to technology; COVID-19 is forcing jails and prisons to release low-level, nonviolent offenders in record numbers, and our justice system needs the tools to monitor people in the community to keep them from reoffending. Emergency funds are also critical to shore up reentry programming, especially for those with addiction or mental health issues.

Law enforcement is burning the candle at both ends to protect public safety and public health, but they can’t do it alone.

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In the coming days, Congress will unveil another relief package, and we’ll see whether our political leaders truly support law enforcement like they say they do.

These brave men and women faced down the pandemic and the unrest in the streets, at great personal risk to themselves and their families. They kept us safe. They looked out for us. It’s time for our leaders in Washington to return the favor.

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