Funding Cuts for Va. Police Feared

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

Local police chiefs throughout Virginia fear that public safety cuts are looming at a time when residents in some jurisdictions are demanding that their departments shoulder new responsibility in enforcing federal immigration laws.

Faced with slowing state revenue, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine recently proposed a plan to cut $300 million in spending to help close a projected $641 million shortfall.

Hidden in the fine print, local officials say, was a $10.8 million, or 5 percent, reduction in funding for localities with their own police departments. Now local officials are scrambling to determine just how much the hit might be, what services would be affected and whether they would have to cut personnel. The tally for the region could be at least $2.7 million, they say.

The police chiefs are calling it a "crisis," said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. "They are in a panic," she said. "You can't deprive agencies of resources when you are asking them to do more and more."

Kaine (D) tried to find places to cut that would cause the least damage, but it has not been possible to insulate every department, said his spokesman, Kevin Hall.

"In facing a $641 million shortfall, some difficult and sometimes painful choices need to be made about which programs to trim, to preserve programs like public schools and public health," Hall said. "We're asking local governments to bear some of the responsibility for the state balancing its budget midstream. . . . The discomfort is real. It's also necessary."

Alexandria officials said they anticipate losing $335,000 in state money that is used for police services.

"It's easy to see it won't be without pain," said Bruce Johnson, director of the city's office of management and budget. "We don't have the money to make up for those kinds of cuts."

Prince William County could lose $575,000 in police funding, said Dana Fenton, the county's legislative affairs director. He said it comes "at a bad time for the county" because Prince William officials are trying to find ways to pay for anti-terrorism activities as well as expand the role of police in rooting out illegal immigrants.

Officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties said they are not sure how much they stand to lose. In Fairfax, the loss could be "$1.4 to $1.5 million," according to county spokesman Jeremy Lasich. In Arlington, it could total $385,000, "an amount that goes directly to policing," said Mark Schwartz, the county's chief financial officer.

The proposed police budget cutbacks come as residents in many jurisdictions are pushing police to clamp down on illegal immigrants.

Even local governments that have not increased enforcement actions against illegal immigrants are bearing the expense of arresting, prosecuting and housing them. Arlington officials have stressed their desire to be tolerant and inclusive and not take action that would harm relations between police and immigrants but have said they would fully enforce the law when crimes are committed.

"There is certainly additional work that we're asking the police to do," Schwartz said. Of the funding at stake, he said, "If we don't get it, there will be an impact."

Loudoun County will not be as adversely affected, officials there say, because much of its law enforcement is conducted by the county sheriff's office, said Kraig Troxell, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.

Middleburg, Purcellville and Leesburg have police departments, as do Falls Church, Fairfax City and Herndon.

Kaine has criticized the federal government for shifting immigration enforcement responsibility onto local officials. Speaking to reporters last week, he said the federal government has abdicated its responsibility in enforcing the law.

The governor will make his final budget recommendations to the General Assembly in December.

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