Federally Supported Justice Projects Endangered by Funding Cuts

Federally Supported Justice Projects Endangered by Funding Cuts

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's drug and gang task forces, drug treatment programs, after-school mentoring projects and rural law enforcement grants for overtime pay and equipment are just some of the programs that depend on federal justice grants and that money is drying up.

The programs could be eliminated or state taxpayers may have to pick up more or all of the costs.

In Utah, the justice grants will be shaved to $986,000 in 2006 from nearly $4.1 million. Just four years ago, the federal government provided $13.4 million.

"The bottom line is they're dealing with a tremendous deficit and budget crisis in Washington overall, and the cuts are by no means just occurring in the justice area," said Richard Ziebarth, a contract grant analyst for Utah's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget recommends slashing, among other programs, $634 million in Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. Utah received $2.6 million from the program this year -- about half of its total federal funds for justice projects -- and is slated to get nothing next year.

"Those funds just keep drying up," said Michele Christiansen, commission director. "We need assistance on the national scale, and we're not getting that anymore."

The Salt Lake Area Gang Project, for example, may lose up to half of its $250,000 federal grant and what's left may be split with the Salt Lake County Metro Narcotics Task Force.

"Worst-case scenario, we could do away with task forces," said Salt Lake County sheriff's Lt. Dale Craig. "I don't think there is political will to do that. So, the best-case scenario is we're going to have to tighten our belts."

That may mean less money for equipment purchases, training and travel and paying informants.

"It just calls into question how we're going to do business in the future," Craig said.

While the gang project receives money from multiple sources, not just federal grants, the cuts could create a damaging perception of the viability of the organization.

"If half of the (police) agencies or several of them say it looks like it's falling apart, it could be the total end of our project," Craig said.

The cuts come at a time when Morris and other detectives are seeing violence ramp up between Latino and Polynesian gangs, and a new, extremely dangerous gang -- the Salvadoran Mara Salvatrucha gang -- organizing in Salt Lake City.

While Ziebarth is hopeful Congress will save the Byrne program, he advises the state's federally funded justice projects to brace for the worst.

"Be prepared for the money not to be there," he said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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