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Gridlock in Md. House could spell disaster for police aid

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s House of Delegates could resort to sizeable reductions to local police aid, including never-before-cut discretionary grants, should it fail to adopt a revised version of the Senate’s budget package.

The House Appropriations Committee is considering contingency measures that would cut the remaining local share of State Aid for Police Protection grants by $45.4 million and eliminate $20.8 million in local law enforcement grant programs, if consensus cannot be reached on the Senate’s package of cuts and revenues.

The Senate passed its budget bill Thursday, which includes Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to level-fund the State Aid for Police Protection Grant Program at $45.4 million, as the state has done the last two years.

House contingency cuts could significantly affect the ability of local governments to protect their citizens and police their communities, said Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, who sits on the Appropriations Committee.

“We have really tough decisions to make in trying to generate new revenues,” Washington said. “I think there’s going to be reductions to local aid across the board.”

Baltimore and Prince George’s County receive the bulk of the additional $20.8 million on the chopping block, which funds foot patrols, drug-related law enforcement and statewide initiatives — including sex offender oversight and domestic violence pilot programs.

The incidence of crime across Maryland could measurably increase with the loss of state funding, according to a Department of Legislative Services report, presented by Operating Budget Manager David Juppe, to House Appropriations on March 9.

“I don’t think the jurisdictions are really happy to lose any money,” Juppe said.

The Maryland Association of Counties anticipates that local aid programs like State Aid for Police Protection will continue to be level-funded; however, the deficit situation legislators find themselves in could very well make local police aid programs the target of cuts.

Legislative committees have made an effort to mitigate the budget’s cost to counties, as shown by the Senate’s decision to phase-in the governor’s teacher pension shift proposal.

“It doesn’t make it any easier to take though,” said Andrea Mansfield, the association’s legislative director. “Especially on top of prior years’ reductions.”

Should cuts be made to the governor’s discretionary grants, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention will require local jurisdictions to submit revised law enforcement budgets.

If Baltimore can’t cover foot patrol costs that community policing grants normally cover, layoffs could ensue.

Reductions in drug court grants would make it harder for Prince George’s County to provide support and job training to nonviolent offenders.

Cuts to body armor grants would make them that much more competitive.

Violent crime in Maryland has reached a record low, but budget cuts could prevent the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention from taking Capital City Safe Streets, a record-setting program in Annapolis, statewide.

“Even though we’re at a record low, we still have goals to meet,” said Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the crime control office. “We have not achieved the goal set by the O’Malley administration of reducing crime by 25 percent by 2012.”

Even level-funding law enforcement programs makes this a challenge.