These days, even cops can't get immunity. Given state and local budget woes, governments are taking a serious look at cutting programs they'd rather hold harmless. In a few places, law enforcement--normally a sacrosanct area--is starting to feel the pinch.
Some of the cuts are more like nibbles around the edges. Charleston, South Carolina, recently decided to save $34,000 by eliminating a clothing allowance that helps detectives look their best when testifying in court. New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram says no troopers will be hired in the budget year starting next month unless the federal government comes through with grants to pay salaries over the next three years.
Those are relatively modest changes. But other states and localities are starting to impose tougher measures on current employees. Boston Mayor Tom Menino has proposed layoffs for 67 police officers and 44 cadets. Not far away, Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong has presented a budget that would eliminate nine police positions out of 41, unless a pay cut can be negotiated.
Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, says he's confident that state and federal aid can be secured in time to obviate the need for layoffs in his city, which are scheduled for October. But it's not clear that the additional dollars will be forthcoming by then.
Meanwhile, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is looking to cut its own public safety budget. Charles Murphy, chairman of the state House Ways and Means Committee, proposed the elimination of a program that offers salary increases to police officers who complete college degrees in relevant fields. This would have saved about $100 million. Nee's union and its allies were able to restore half the funds in a floor vote.
Because they are heavily unionized and work under contract, police and sheriffs are better off when it comes to budget cuts than many other government employees. Representative Murphy argues, however, that austerity--even for cops--is necessary, given current constraints. Salaries and benefits for law enforcement are "a politically sensitive area to approach," he says, "but in today's economic climate, there are no sacred cows. I don't want people to think we're anti-police, but if that's the case, we're also anti-education and anti-public health and everything else we're having to cut."