Maine law enforcement preparing for federal spending cuts

Posted Sept. 11, 2011, at 7:07 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Law enforcement agencies are already reeling from cuts in federal grant programs earlier this year and as Congress slashes billions of dollars in spending to reduce the federal deficit, Mainers will notice the impact on police agencies.

“I don’t think Maine is any different than any other state,” said Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police. “A lot of our basic functions and basic missions are funded by grants. The reality is when that grant money goes away, there is no state money to replace it. You are going to reduce your services or have larger backlogs.”

Williams said grants from the U.S. Justice Department have been used by law enforcement agencies statewide for everything from buying equipment to funding the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency that uses police officers and deputies from across the state.

“It will have an impact, an impact on law enforcement as a whole in the state of Maine,” he said.

Sheriff Glenn Ross, president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, agrees. He said sheriffs across the state have made “good use” of federal grants to buy everything from replacement weapons to radios and other equipment.

“We have made good use of the grants to upgrade our radios,” he said. “I know that sheriffs and other police agencies have used federal grants to replace equipment and buy new equipment.”

Ross said all of law enforcement will have to absorb the loss of federal funds, and that will be more difficult for some agencies. He said some agencies have used grants to help pay for staff or expenses such as training, and they will feel the cuts worse than other agencies.

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins, president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said he has no doubt that the federal cuts will adversely affect law enforcement agencies across the state.

“Our local budgets are hard pressed,” he said. “We are flat again this year in my department, and that puts greater demands on doing what we have to do with less.”

Googins said he remembers over his 15 years as a chief that federal funds have varied greatly. He said under President Clinton there was the COPS program that not only provided grants for equipment and training but also paid for salaries of officers.

“We are doing more cooperating so we can stretch our funds further,” he said. “An example of that is the regional training we do.”

Googins said the state is carved into eight police districts and within each, law enforcement agencies pool their training funds and conduct regional training programs to keep officers up-to-date at a lower cost to taxpayers.

Ross said he believes it is a mistake to rely on grant money for regular training. He said many of the sheriffs also participate in those regional training sessions.

Ross said one concern is where the federal government has mandated radio upgrades called narrow banding. “We took advantage of grants and upgraded here, but I am sure there are agencies that have not, particularly some small police and fire departments,” he said.

Williams said some statewide services that help all law enforcement agencies are also expected to lose some federal funding. He said the State Bureau of Identification has relied on federal grants to add to the databases it keeps and to reduce the backlog of information waiting to be added to the databases.

“About half the funding of the computer crimes unit is federal,” he said. “We have two investigators on [American Recovery Act] money that runs out in March.”

Williams said the unit handles mostly child pornography cases but has been asked to do forensic analysis of computers in a few cases. He said use of computers in crimes is growing and so is the need to train staff to keep up with changes in technology.

“If we don’t do it, who will?” he said. “Other agencies do not have the expertise to deal with computer crimes.”

Williams said all of law enforcement will face the need to set new priorities if federal cuts are as deep as some expect. He said it could mean longer response times and no response at all to some incidents such as car-deer collisions with no injuries.

 

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