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Is Sanctuary City Crackdown Keeping Fed Grants For Police Locked Up?

Tim Teebken
Photodisc/Getty Images

Cities and towns around the country rely on federal policing grants for a variety of expenses, including training, equipment, and personnel. So far there have been no payments.

The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG) provides hundreds of millions of dollars a year to states, tribes, and local governments. And they're usually disbursed by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30th.

Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning in Connecticut, says the delay is unusual and unexplained. Last year Connecticut received about $2.6 million in JAG grants.

"Every single state gets one of these grants and this year not a single state has gotten it and we have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice what's going on," Lawlor said. "They consistently can't or won't answer the question so we don't know. We assume it's because they have concerns about sanctuary cities around the country."

Earlier this year Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would withhold federal crime-fighting dollars from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration. But that's been challenged in the courts. Most recently a federal judge in Chicago granted a preliminary injunction that stopped the DOJ from withholding funds to sanctuary cities.

At this point though, the DOJ hasn't just missed the disbursement date. States have not even been notified of the grant award, which usually happens around April or May, according to Lawlor.

"There's going to be more steps that have to take place before the money's actually received, and typically it's about six months from the date of the award until the date you get the check," Lawlor said. "And it's important to keep in mind, this is going on in every state in the country. The reddest of red states, you know, Mississippi, Alabama, they're having the same problem."

New Haven is one of several cities and towns in the state considered a sanctuary city, where police generally do not detain suspects on behalf of federal immigration agents, or collect immigration status from suspects — all in compliance with federal immigration law. In fact, on Oct. 12 Attorney General Sessions affirmed Connecticut's compliance with federal immigration law, writing that they have found no evidence of violations.

So, why the holdup? Speaking earlier this year, Anthony Campbell, then interim chief and now chief of the New Haven Police Department, said that by withholding funds the Department of Justice is trying to pressure local police departments into doing the work of another federal agency.

"We are not federal agencies," Campbell said. "We are a local municipality hired to enforce the laws of Connecticut."

Campbell said funding from grants like Byrne Jag has enabled New Haven to reduce its crime rate, in part, through community policing.

"It is labor intensive and it is expensive, but the results you can't put a price on," Campbell said. "The amount of prevention that we are able to provide through this type of funding results in fewer homicides, results in a higher quality of life for all of our citizens, and that's something we want to continue."

As of the end of October, the grant process is five to six months behind schedule, and counting. On Oct. 24, Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal along with other lawmakers from the Connecticut delegation, sent a letter to Sessions demanding an explanation for the delay and asking for a response within 10 days.

Copyright 2017 Connecticut Public

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.
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