WASHINGTON—Justice Department investigators will visit police departments across the country to determine whether more federal dollars are needed to stem the nation's rising violent crime, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced Monday.
The initiative comes as the Justice Department is under pressure to increase federal dollars aimed at local police programs. In September, the FBI reported that violent crime rose 2.3 percent in 2005, the largest increase since 1991 and a trend that some police officials have blamed on cuts in federal crime-fighting grants. In some cities, such as Minneapolis, violent crime has spiked 15 percent.
"We need to find out why this is happening, what we can do to reverse that trend," Gonzales said during the annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Boston. "And we need to do it together."
While Gonzales said the review was important to determine the causes of what he described as a "small uptick" in violent crime, he emphasized that the overall crime rate is the lowest in more than 30 years.
Some police organizations expressed disappointment that the initiative didn't include immediate financial help for local police departments struggling to make up for years of reductions in federal funding.
The Bush administration has cut grants for state and local crime-fighting programs on the grounds that they have outlived their usefulness or have underperformed. COPS, a program aimed at hiring 100,000 police officers nationwide, has been among those hit the hardest.
Legislation pending before Congress largely would restore the administration cuts proposed this year.
"If you're cutting our funding, you're cutting our legs out from underneath us," said Andrea Mournighan, the legislative director of the National Association of Police Organizations. "My hope would be the Justice Department will look at certain cities and realize the importance of programs in fighting crime, and hopefully they'll understand that more funding is needed."
Thomas Frazier, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents the police departments of the 56 largest cities, said police departments already knew the reason for rising violent-crime rates: gangs, drug use and poverty.
As the crime rate went down and the country became more concerned about the risk of an international terrorist attack, "crime fell off the national radar screen," he said.
If the Justice Department wanted to help police departments with rising crime, it would increase federal funding, Frazier said, adding that "anything else is another academic exercise."
Justice Department officials said they planned to select cities over the next several weeks based on size and geographic location. After completing the review, the department will determine how best to match federal programs with certain cities and will fund new programs "where necessary."
Investigators will study trends such as gang violence, drug distribution networks and juvenile crime.
"The smart government approach is to figure out what are the factors that are contributing to the spike in those particular communities," said Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman. "Once you identify what those factors are, you're better able to determine where to put your resources and programs."
(Greg Gordon contributed to this article.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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