Crime reduction initiatives usually mean one thing to most people: More police on the streets, maybe with some new tactics or gear. But to certain people, they mean something else entirely: Money.
Extra police, tactics and gear all require funding, as do the support functions that allow them to do their jobs. That’s where Matt Dummermuth, principal deputy assistant Attorney General and leader of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), comes in.
OJP oversees the Justice Department’s grant management system, doling out money alongside best practices to state, local and tribal police departments around the country. These grants can go for hardware, training, or more abstract purposes like violent crime reduction initiatives, opioid epidemic programming, or officer safety and wellness.
“We’re doing a lot to try to not only enhance officer safety, whether it’s through equipment or programs, but also the wellness of the officers who are serving the public,” Dummermuth said on Agency in Focus – Justice Department. “They face a lot of trauma in their jobs, a lot of stress, to have a number of programs to help them manage that, to look for warning indicators and then get them the help they need. And actually that same type of trauma that law enforcement faces, we’re seeing it on the victim services side as well. And so we’re trying to incorporate programs that help people who have to deal regularly with crime victims to essentially secondary trauma that they face from hearing their stories and helping them through it. And so both on the officer side and the victim services side, we have a number of wellness programs that we’re trying to basically help try to keep those officers healthy in their jobs.”
Wellness is actually a big focus for OJP; Dummermuth said crime victims are eligible for certain compensations, and OJP’s grant money helps pay for that. Victims need things like alternate housing, and specialized services like counseling and other mental health services. In 2018, OJP doled out “historic levels” for victims services, he said.
“Just under $4 billion were issued last year, so there’s never been more money in the victim services field for state and local victim service providers from the federal government as last year,” Dummermuth told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
And that’s necessary, he said, due to recent upsurges in violent crime in 2015 and 2016.
“[Police have] been busy trying to respond to that. And certainly our funding is helping to do that in cooperation with the federal government,” he said. “So I think the demand is often there as long as there’s crime. And so we’re doing the best we can to fit the funding we have to the needs in the field.”
Increased access to data, law enforcement
But crime isn’t the only focus of OJP’s grants. The office also provides money to increase access to data and communication among all law enforcement entities. One big way that can happen is the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS). CTAS awarded 225 grants totaling $113 million to 125 different tribal police departments, ranging in size from eight to hundreds of officers. And that’s not including the $133 million set aside to expand tribal victim services programs.
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For example, Dummermuth described one program designed to give tribes more access to law enforcement data.
“We started what’s called the tribal access program,” he said. “And so it gives individual tribes the ability to have access to the National Crime Information Systems. So in the past, a lot of times they didn’t have a mechanism to get their own tribal protection orders in a domestic violence case, for example, or to register their own sex offenders through their state systems. And so this is a way to give them direct access to the National Sex Offender Registry and also other federal criminal databases.”
The program essentially involves installing a special computer terminal, loaded with information privacy protections, that allows the tribes to access this data without going through state or local intermediaries.
“We have 50 tribes already part of the program and we’re hoping to bring that up to more than 70 by the end of the year,” Dummermuth said. “Two examples: it helped solve a kidnapping case, capture this suspect and recover the vulnerable victim in a tribal case. And then another one, we prevented a domestic violence offender from purchasing a firearm because of this TAP project that the tribe had. So [we are] really excited about that.”
OJP also helps departments and states maintain compliance for certain programs, like the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which is a national system that tracks the residences and jobs of sex offenders across the country. Currently, 18 states are in full compliance with the act.
“Many states are close to substantial compliance, but they’re not quite there,” Dummermuth said. “And so we’re regularly monitoring each states, whether they fall out of compliance sometimes, whether they come into compliance, and then we give them technical assistance.”