Lawmakers went home for Christmas without acting on the president’s $263 million request.
BY: LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE
Late Tuesday, the least productive Congress in history finally finished for the year as the Senate adjourned.
There was one large chore lawmakers had to complete before departure—the passage of a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government until January 2015—and they did, in fact, get it done.
But the bill may have distinguished itself for what it didn’t contain, rather than what it did. What was missing?
President Barack Obama’s modest $263 million request for body cameras and training for police. Included in the president’s request was $75 million for 50,000 cameras—a request he made on Dec. 1, a day he spent discussing law enforcement, police brutality and the creation of a new task force on 21st-century policing.
That was the same day he met with young activists from Ferguson, Mo., and around the country.
In the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, respectively, the debate over body cameras has gone national. And even though many have pointed out that body cameras aren’t the be-all and end-all to solving the country’s police-violence problem, others point to pilot programs where the use of cameras was followed by a decrease in excessive-force complaints against police officers.
Police in Rialto, Calif., began wearing body cameras in 2012, and complaints dropped by 88 percent. Use of force by police officers in the small town declined by a stunning 60 percent.
This week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the Los Angeles Police Department will purchase 7,000 body cameras for its officers in an effort to improve transparency and trust in law enforcement.
During the weekend after a grand jury in Staten Island, N.Y., announced that Pantaleo would not be indicted in the strangling death of Garner, New York City began a pilot program of 50 officers wearing body cameras. The program is scheduled to expand in 2015.
But even though there are indications that the body-camera program is likely to make a difference, Congress did not act on the president’s funding request. At the same time, the budget just passed and signed into law included $1.3 billion for Egypt, $50 million for drought relief in California and $1.2 billion related to immigration. But it failed to include the $263 million for cameras and police training.
Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, pointed out that many items in the $1.1 trillion bill weren’t even requested. “Keeping with the Christmas spirit, lawmakers stuffed the Pentagon’s stocking with $3.4 billion worth of unrequested items like Abrams tank upgrades, more Humvees, combat-rescue helicopters, Blackhawk helicopters and more UAVs, to name a few. The Army Corps of Engineers got $1 billion extra to build projects in what was little more than a slush fund,” Alexander pointed out.
Despite the omission of body cameras, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), the Democrat on House Appropriations for federal criminal-justice programs, was able to push a $400 million overall increase for the Department of Justice into the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus.” Increased funding for youth-mentoring programs and the Second Chance Act, a law that assists ex-felons and helps them with re-entry into society, was also included.
Obama signed the budget into law on Tuesday, a day before the government was scheduled to shut down. It will keep the government running for another nine months, which will likely set up another budget fight in September 2015, a few months before the 2016 presidential primaries.