WASHINGTON – The Bush administration offered Thursday to pump $200 million into U.S. cities next year to combat violent crime, winning tepid support from mayors who want to see more cops on the street.
The money, announced by Attorney General Michael Mukasey, mostly targets crime-fighting programs across regions — meaning it likely won't cover the cost of hiring new police officers.
"I know that many of your communities continue to face challenges," Mukasey told the U.S. Conference of Mayors in a Thursday morning speech. He won light applause in announcing the new money, which will be part of the Justice Department's budget request for the 2009 fiscal year.
Mukasey also rapped U.S. Sentencing Commission plans to allow some 19,500 federal prison inmates, most of them black, to seek reductions in their crack cocaine sentences. The attorney general described many of the inmates as violent gang members who could threaten public safety if released sooner than initially expected.
"A sudden influx of criminals from federal prison into your communities could lead to a surge in new victims as a tragic but predictable result," Mukasey told the mayors.
Preliminary FBI data released earlier this month showed violent crime dipped slightly for the first six months of 2007 after two years of increases. Mayors have long called for more help from Washington in combating crime, and deride budget cuts that ended funding for hiring more cops.
The conference's president, Mayor Doug Palmer of Trenton, N.J., called the new dollars "a start" but said "certainly more is necessary."
"We've asked for more cops," Palmer said after Mukasey's speech. "That didn't happen. So we're looking to increase the cops funding to put more police on the street."
He added: "We're looking for any kinds of money that you can use."
Palmer said he shared Mukasey's concerns about shortening the sentences of inmates, noting that many may not have completed drug treatment or other community re-entry programs.
"I don't think our cities can handle that right now," Palmer said.
The FBI data, compiled from local and state police departments around the nation, showed murders, rapes, robberies and other violent crimes dropped by 1.8 percent between January and June last year. Property crimes also decreased, including a 7.4 percent drop in car thefts and arsons by nearly 10 percent. But violent crime appears to be rising, if slightly, in small cities and rural areas, the data showed.
Mukasey described the new money as mainly targeting cities and states that agree to share it with neighboring localities to combat crimes spreading across regions. Last year, he said, the Justice Department made $75 million available to communities after studying 18 cities and suburban regions over a six-month period for clues on curbing surging crime rates.
The department also is pressing Congress for tougher laws to give federal prosecutors more power to crack down on crime.
"Every criminal taken off the streets is one less who's committing new crimes," Mukasey said.