This week a special congressional panel will begin sifting through conflicting suggestions on how to organize the new Homeland Security Agency. The Select Committee on Homeland Security has to decide, for instance, whether or not the Coast Guard should be included in the new department. But in cities across the United States, mayors have a different concern - how the new department will be funded. Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell is among those helping lead the charge to make sure the feds hear the voice of local law enforcement. 90.3 WCPN's Renita Jablonski reports.
Renita Jablonski: It happened on September 11th and it would happen in the event of another terrorist attack - the first calls for help would likely be taken by local fire departments and police. That's why Mayor Jane Campbell says she's worried about where President Bush wants to take money from to create his new Homeland Security agency.
Jane Campbell: What he's proposed to do is to take money that is now being spent in local communities for basic law enforcement and remove those dollars and put them at the federal level, create a federal bureaucracy that then gives money to a state bureaucracy, that then lets the cities apply for money that's already ours now.
RJ: Campbell says one example is the federal COPS program. COPS stands for Community Oriented Policing Services. The program was initiated as part of the 1994 crime bill to help pay for 100,000 new police nationwide. In Cleveland, COPS money pays for 100 of the city's 1,925 police officers.
JC: How would you create better security by having fewer police officers? The other place they're taking money, is they're taking money from the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant and those are dollars that come to the city for equipment, specialized equipment that allow us to deal with safety issues here and certainly if there were terrorist activity in the city of Cleveland, we would rely on all of those tools.
RJ: Campbell says the city risks losing up to $1.5 to $2 million if the block grant is cut off. Wrapping up a Cleveland visit at Edgewater Park Sunday afternoon, Donna Emery says she understands Campbell's reasoning but she's not convinced. Emery, along with her husband and son live just outside of Washington. She says she's not so sure that re-routing funds to provide for the national Homeland Security agency is such a bad idea.
Donna Emery: When you think about it realistically the federal government you know, through NSA and all those agencies are supposedly monitoring all this stuff and they would be the ones I think, that would be aware of something that might happen before the local police would.
RJ: Emery would only describe herself as a facilitator for the federal government and that she speaks from experience.
DE: Having lived through the tragedy, I work two blocks from the White House in D.C. and I really relied on the people in the building, which is the federal government to tell me what to do that day.
RJ: Yet, when asked who she'd call first if she was outside of that environment during any other terrorist action, Emery's answer surprised her.
DE: I'd probably call 9-11 which is your local police! (laughs)
RJ: Tim O'Toole is assistant chief for Cleveland's Division of Fire. He's also director of the city's Office of Emergency Preparedness, established by Mayor Mike White after September 11th. O'Toole says reactions like Emery's only give further testament to the fact that local law enforcement provides the foundation in responding to any crisis situation.
Tim O'Toole: Ultimately it's our local responders that are going to respond to a national emergency. Federal assets won't be here for a long time, for 24 to 36 hours. The local responders are going to provide the security, they're going to protect the citizens and they're ultimately going to be the ones that suffer the losses.
RJ: O'Toole says it's hard to plan for any future funding cuts to area police and fire departments since the Homeland Security agency is still so undefined. He says the worst-case scenario would be having to increase overtime in order to maintain staffing at their current levels. O'Toole says regardless, planning for emergency preparedness will continue to evolve.
TO: We're beginning to pull resources and break down some of those barriers that we once had. Meaning, we're working on responding within the county and even outside of the county and combining those resources, not only manpower resources but equipment resources.
RJ: O'Toole says just last week, all of Cuyahoga County's hazardous materials teams were working together on establishing common protocols and planning exercises. And as emergency preparedness remains an ongoing process, Mayor Campbell says she's coordinating with mayors in other large cities, such as Detroit and Chicago, to get funding concerns heard.
JC: We're really trying to impress upon the federal government how ill advised their policy of reducing the number of police officers on the street as a way to create security is.
RJ: Campbell personally expressed her opinion to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge at last month's U.S. Conference of Mayors - and she's not alone. A survey taken by the U.S.C.M. shows that mayors across the country want additional funding channeled directly to cities and their first responders. In fact, 87% say their city's emergency preparedness funding would be "hampered if the federal government were to provide funding directly to the state as opposed to directly to the city." In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3 WCPN News.