WASHINGTON, D.C. - With a Republican budget agreement that could cut funding by $24 million for a critical grant program that helps police departments utilize body cameras and other innovative technology, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined 17 senators in calling for full funding of the U.S. Department of Justice Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program.
More than 600 JAG recipients nationwide have used federal funding for police camera technology. This technology has been found to reduce the use of force by officers by as much as 60 percent, reduce citizen complaints by as much as 88 percent, assist in resolving complaints against the police, and reduce the likelihood of false complaints against the police.
The letter was lead by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and signed by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
In their letter to Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, the senators also requested full funding for the President's proposal for a three-year, $263 million investment in body-worn cameras, expanded law enforcement training, and additional resources for police department reform.
A copy of the letter can be found below:
May 5, 2015
The Honorable Thad Cochran
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Room S 128, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Cochran,
We write to strongly urge you to reverse the drastic funding cuts to police training and body cameras in the Republican Budget Conference report. Unfortunately, the sequestration cuts in the FY 2016 Budget Conference Agreement could reduce funding by $24 million for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program, a key funding program that municipalities and police departments rely on to fund innovative tools like body cameras.
The dramatic cuts to federal law enforcement funding in the Republican budget are out of step with the needs of community policing efforts on the ground across America. Many state and local governments use these federal funding programs to test emerging approaches to public safety challenges, such as the use of body cameras by state and local police officers to document police interactions. In 2012 and 2013, over 600 JAG recipients nationwide used federal funding for police camera technology.
Recent events in Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; Ferguson, Missouri; and elsewhere across the nation make funding that supports investment in body-worn camera technology by state and local law enforcement all the more critical. According to the Department of Justice, "body-worn camera technology is a valuable tool for improving police-citizen relationships." In some instances, body worn cameras have been found to reduce the use of force by officers by as much as 60 percent, reduce citizen complaints by as much as 88 percent, assist in resolving complaints against the police, and reduce the likelihood of false complaints against the police.
In addition to our request that you reverse the drastic cuts made to the Byrne JAG program, we also request that you fully fund the President's proposal for a three-year $263 million investment in body-worn cameras, expanded law enforcement training, and additional resources for police department reform. These funds would not only provide important additional resources for overburdened state and local law enforcement agencies, they could also go a long way towards restoring relationships between law enforcement and the communities that they serve and protect. As Attorney General Loretta Lynch highlighted in a press release announcing the DOJ's body-worn camera pilot program, "[b]ody-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve."
Trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve is necessary not only for the stability and safety of our communities, but also for the integrity of our criminal justice system. We strongly urge you to fully fund these vital law enforcement grant programs.