Where’s the Money?
Your Executive Committee recently returned from its annual pilgrimage to our nation’s capital. In 2014 at around this time we were dealing with an election year, and as such, there was a whole lot of posturing going on. Unfortunately, the posturing did not work for the Democrats, who lost their majority in the Senate and several seats in the House. Last year’s efforts were focused on getting re-elected by trying to show constituents that both sides could work together to garner bipartisan support and reach compromises. Usually what results in these situations is that we get caught up in the crosshairs.
Once again, those crosshairs are targeted on COPS program funding. Most of you are familiar with the COPS grants originally proposed by President Bill Clinton under his program to put an additional 100,000 officers in the field nationwide. Right after the Great Recession of 2008, they were retooled to help retain officers or rehire those who were laid off. Since these grants were originated by a Democrat, the other side of the aisle believes that they have ran their course and the funding needs to be zeroed out. Conversely, the Democrats want to not only fully fund the grants, but also augment them.
Our concern this year with COPS funding revolved around bodyworn cameras (BWCs), the hot topic of all meetings. There was a frenzy by senators, representatives and staffers to soak up any information we had about BWCs — especially since PORAC was the first major law enforcement association to take a position of supporting the proper use and implementation of these devices. (Most other law enforcement groups have vehemently pounded their fists on the table rejecting the concept.) Our concern is that funding will be diverted from existing programs to fund the costs associated with BWCs. I believe we effectively expressed our belief that there needs to be a whole new funding mechanism for these devices and related infrastructure. Senator Feinstein was very supportive of our endeavor. While we were meeting with her, she instructed her staff to seek clarification from the President’s staff about his funding request on BWCs, and to write a letter to the Chief of Staff to see if there was leeway in the line-item request for infrastructure issues. To add fuel to the fire, Senator Leahy’s staff was concerned about monies being diverted from his Ballistic Vest Program to help fund BWCs. One thing is certain: No one knows exactly what is going to happen with this issue. Once believed to be the panacea that was going to solve all of law enforcement’s problems and pave the way for transparency, BWCs have encountered some serious concerns that need to be addressed.
As in years past, PORAC continues to push hard to pass the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 1795/S. 896). This legislation would repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), two formulas that penalize police officers, firefighters and teachers when it comes to collecting Social Security benefits for time spent working in the private sector. The easiest way to describe their effect is to say that they slash whatever Social Security benefits you are entitled to by two-thirds. While PORAC continues to vocally support eliminating the WEP and GPO, we were quickly educated during one of our meetings that each part carries an approximate $40 billion price tag, give or take a few billion. PORAC will continue working this bill for the next several years; however, I only ask that you do not hold your breath.
It appears the federal government also has a prison overcrowding concern and is looking at restructuring its minimum sentencing requirements and providing evidence-based educational programs for prisoners to reduce recidivism and as an incentive for completing the programs’ reduced sentences. Based on information obtained in one of our meetings, the federal system is currently operating at 140% of original capacity. Interestingly enough, the feds are looking at creating their own AB 109. Unlike us, they are not facing a Supreme Court decision and have a little time to hopefully put together the right combination of legislation that makes sense. Our delegation was able to provide innumerable examples of the detriments created by AB 109 and Proposition 47. The legislation the federal government is proposing is the Smarter Sentencing Act (H.R. 3382/S. 1410) and the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act (S. 1675).
PORAC was instrumental in providing information on the Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act (ECPA) (H.R. 1847/ S. 607) and the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852). ECPA was put forth to protect the privacy of emails, text messages, social media posts and other electronic communications. It establishes a search warrant requirement for the government to obtain the content of such communications. In addition, it adds a notification requirement to the individual(s) whose information was searched, along with providing them with a copy of the warrant. For all intents and purposes, it appears this legislation is dead in the water.
These issues were the meat and potatoes of our dialogues. However, by attending your next chapter meeting, you can receive more details from your local executive director in attendance.