A Shift in Priorities

Public safety agencies from the FBI to the smallest volunteer fire departments have been dramaticall

In San Bernardino, Police Chief Michael Billdt has seen a similar shift in his department less money for community policing and more for equipment and training.

But Billdt is less conflicted than his Redlands counterpart. He said the shift is necessary in a world fraught with danger and that his department, with federal help, is better equipped than before to deal with it.

"There are terrorist elements in our society," Billdt said. "And I feel comfortable that the city has developed collaboration with local, state and federal agencies. To the extent that we can prepare, we are prepared."

The funds have better equipped San Bernardino police, Billdt said, funding everything from new firearms for SWAT officers to goggles, gloves and hazmat suits to be used in the event of biological attack.

What federal funding has not helped with is the war on terror's depleting effect on the San Bernardino Police Department, an agency already so short-staffed that Mayor Pat Morris is supporting a ballot measure that would hike local sales taxes to help fund the hiring of 40 more police officers.

Billdt said several of his officers have been off the streets for extended periods while fulfilling duty as military reservists.

"It has drawn away some of our resources, and in that regard we're doing more with less," Billdt said.

Bueermann said his department recently purchased gas masks designed to filter biological agents, but they will be used mostly to filter tear gas used to smoke out homegrown fugitives.

Bueermann's concerns about the diminished funding stream for more street cops and outreach programs is understood when looking at the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, budget over the last 10 years.

The COPS program, a key initiative of President Clinton designed to help local police and sheriffs' departments put 100,000 more police and sheriff's deputies on the streets, saw its budget for hiring cops drop from $226.2 million in 2000 to zero in 2006. In 1998, the budget for hiring more officers under the universal hiring program, was $1.07 billion, said Gilbert Moore, spokesman for the office of Community Oriented Policing Services in Washington.

Though the system for applying for federal funds has shifted away from community policing and toward counterterrorism efforts, some in law enforcement have learned to work the system in their favor. A lack of oversight as to how federal grant money is spent doesn't make it all that difficult, said Allan Jiao, chairman of the Department of Law and Justice at Rowan University in New Jersey.

"On paper, you can say the community policing program has been hurt because of 9/11. On the other hand, however, it is a matter of how you use the money," Jiao said, referring to the way federal grant applications are filled out by law enforcement officials.

"They have to say the money is going to be used for terrorism prevention and training, but is it really?" Jiao said.

One thing positive that did emerge from Jiao's study is how police officers, mostly lower ranking patrol officers, have come to view their jobs since 9/11.

"The reason their mind-set changed is because they saw that if anything like that ever happens again they will be right in the middle of it because police officers will be the first responders."

That new perception by police officers, Jiao said, is manifested in their duties.

"They used to do random patrol. They used to wait for calls to come in as they do every day. Just normal police business," Jiao said. "Now they look at things they would have never looked at before the high rises, the landmark areas, chemical plants, power plants. If there's a building being erected, they will actually check on the construction crew. They may have never done that prior to 9/11, but now they do."

Solberg, the CHP officer, agrees with Jiao's assessment.

"You have to know every square inch of a place in case something goes wrong. You think about anything that can happen. If you can think about it, it could happen."