Somefederal bucks on their way?

Published on Thu, Nov 10, 2005 by eg Olson

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Some federal bucks on their way?

By Meg Olson

The local law enforcement community is applauding another effort by the Washington congressional delegation to get federal funds to deal with border-related crime.

“This has been one of the county executive’s highest priorities,” said Whatcom County deputy administrator Dewey Dessler.

“We spend about $2.5 million every year in county law enforcement and justice costs on border-related cases.”

On November 3 Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressman Rick Larsen introduced in their respective houses of Congress the Northern Border Prosecution Initiative Reimbursement Act.

If approved, the bill would reserve $28 million for communities along the northern border who are now paying the cost of holding and prosecuting most of the border-related criminal activity.

“We can’t keep sticking financially-strapped local communities with the bill for prosecuting federal crimes on the northern border,” Cantwell said in a November 4 statement.

“If we’re going to make sure our border stays secure, we need seamless cooperation between state and federal governments, and we need to get federal support to the local level.”

In his request to the federal government for funding assistance, county executive Pete Kremen said 85 percent of criminal apprehensions at or near local borders are turned over to the county for prosecution.

Emily Langlie with the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle confirmed her office declines to prosecute a significant number of cases at the border, leaving smaller busts and warrant extradition to local courts.

“We encounter people on a daily basis who have wants or warrants and we turn them over to Whatcom County,” said Customs and Border Protection public information officer Mike Milne.

When the federal government declines to prosecute a case local authorities can either release the individual or take on the burden of prosecution themselves.

“The Whatcom County criminal justice system is starting to stagger under this load, and should receive assistance from the federal government,” Kremen said.

He also pointed out a federal reimbursement program exists, in Texas to help counties struggling with the burden of border-related crime.

“Southwest border communities aren’t expected to foot the bill for federal cases. Our cash-strapped local communities shouldn’t be either,” said Larsen. If the bill passes local cities like Blaine will also be able to apply for federal help paying the local cost of border-related crimes.

Abbey Levenshus, communications director for Larsen, agreed.
“It comes down to an issue of fairness,” she said. “It’s not much of a choice, release them into your community or take up the slack.”

The Northern Border Prosecution Initiative Reimbursement Act was introduced to Congress the day after Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a nationwide plan to tighten the net at the border.

“We will address all aspects of the border security problem across the board – deterrence, detection, response, apprehension, detention, and removal.”

Returning from a November 8 meeting of federal agencies and local partners, Joe Giuliano with the Blaine Sector border patrol said a beefier border might lead to fewer, instead of more, cases destined for prosecution which could lighten the load on everyone.

“In the long run by having more agents and more technology we hope to have a greater deterrent effect,” he said. “In the interim we may have to prepare for a spike at the beginning.”

Cantwell communications director Charla Newman said she’s hopeful the reimbursement plan will pass, which it failed to do three years ago.
“It has bi-partisan support and we think that will give it a lift,” she said.