$9.6M in stimulus funds bound for Maine’s law enforcement

Posted March 08, 2009, at 11:18 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Maine’s law enforcement community will receive a $9.6 million boost from the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which gives local law enforcement agencies additional funding to support drug and gang task forces and other law enforcement programs.

The Byrne-JAG funding is being distributed to Maine through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The economic stimulus package, which President Obama signed into law last month, authorizes $787 billion in federal expenditures aimed at jump-starting the nation’s ailing economy.

It includes $2 billion for the Byrne-JAG program, according to the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Web site. The stimulus money will supplement the program’s annual appropriation.

According to the state and local allocation list published on the bureau’s Web site, Maine will receive $9,608,065 in additional Byrne-JAG money. Of that total, $3,547,936 is being distributed directly to Maine counties and municipalities. Another $6,060,129 will be divvied up among a number of potential recipients, including the Department of Corrections, the court system and the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

“This is critical funding that will keep our streets safe,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, noted in a news release Friday announcing Maine’s share of the funding.

“The Byrne-JAG program is a tried and tested program that has served us well for more than two decades,” said Collins, who worked with a bipartisan group of senators to craft the economic stimulus package that became law last month.

“Maine’s law enforcement agencies have made great progress in their ongoing, collaborative, multijurisdictional approach to combating drug trafficking and violence in our state,” she said.

“Particularly at a time when a risk of adverse economic conditions may lead to increased crime, this funding will support our nation’s finest in their efforts on the front lines, where they risk their lives daily keeping Americans safe.”

In a recent interview, MDEA Director Roy McKinney said that the Byrne-JAG program covers 20 percent of the agency’s $3.7 million annual operating budget. The state funds the lion’s share, at 70 percent, and the remaining 10 percent is funded through drug forfeitures.

Byrne-JAG funding also covers the salaries of a small stable of drug prosecutors with the State Attorney General’s Office, he said. Because of shrinking federal support, McKinney said, the number of specialty drug prosecutors is down to four from the six the state had two years ago.

As McKinney sees it, the battle to keep drugs off the streets is taxing the state’s law enforcement resources.

“Drugs are so pervasive in our community impact. They’re a catalyst for just about all of the other criminal conduct,” he said.

While the additional funding is welcome, McKinney cautioned that the state shouldn’t get too used to the midbudget boost the president’s stimulus package is providing, particularly when it comes to creating positions.

“It’s one-time money, and personnel aren’t a one-time expense,” he said. “Law enforcement is a personnel-driven business. This needs to be a long-term approach. We don’t want to grow too fast.”

The state now is working to determine how its $6 million in federal stimulus funds would best be used to combat crime in Maine.

A public hearing to that end has been set for 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 16, at the Maine Department of Public Safety’s headquarters in Augusta.

During the session, members of the state Judicial Advisory Council are slated to take comment on how the money should be divided up.

For more information on the distribution of Byrne-JAG funds, including the state and local allocation figures, visit the Bureau of Justice Assistance Program’s Web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/recoveryact.html.

dgagnon@bangordailynews.net

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