The public safety double whammy
A government shutdown is imminent. There is no question that a shutdown can be inconvenient and a hardship, but can it be dangerous? The double whammy--sequester and a government shutdown--will have an impact on public safety.
Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, said the area’s federal court system could function for probably two weeks, based on fees and other funds collected over time. “Beyond two weeks, those funds probably would be exhausted,” Oliver said. “So if there’s any shutdown for a substantial period of time, it’s going to be devastating to the courts and, I’m sure, all of the governmental agencies.”
The court's are already feeling the crunch. Nearly $350 million in cuts to the courts this year under the across-the-board government spending reductions called sequestration, have been “devastating” and “painful.”
Clerks and probation and pretrial offices have lost as many as 1,000 staff. The staff that has been maintained have lost 8,600 furlough days during 2013.
Initially, the government shutdown will not result in cuts for any government employee who conducts "essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property." For example: all emergency medical care, food-safety inspections, border patrol, federal prisons, law enforcement, emergency and disaster assistance, overseeing the banking system, operating the power grid, and guarding federal property.
However, Atlanta's top federal prosecutor and the special agent in charge of the FBI said that deep budget cuts are already diverting funds from catching criminals, and it's putting public safety at risk.
"When you have fewer people, when you have less money, when you don't have the resources to do the cases you used to do, there's going to be a public safety impact on the district," said U.S. Attorney Sally Yates.
"A furlough is just a nice way of saying 'pay cut.'" Yates said. "We're doing everything we can to try to prioritize our cases and to do the most significant cases."
"We don't have a set number of days yet in the FBI. We're talking about as many as 16 days for every employee of the FBI nationwide," Mark Giuliano, FBI agent-in-charge said.
Besides the furlough, the FBI has already put a hiring freeze into effect, so agents who retire, quit or even get promoted aren't being replaced.
Yates said there will be furlough days in the U.S. Attorney's Office, as well. Yates said the estimate of up to 16 furlough days is for fiscal year 2014.
Local law enforcement has taken a pounding in the last two years. Federal funding for criminal justice assistance through the U.S. Department of Justice has dropped by an enormous 43 percent.
Forty-four percent of local law enforcement agencies reported a funding drop of at least one-third while 14 percent reported a cut of more than one-half.
When law enforcement has fewer resources and less people logic dictates there will be a public safety impact.