Police forces shrinking amid budget strains

WASHINGTON Mon Oct 24, 2011 1:34pm EDT

A pedestrian walks past a line of New York Police Department (NYPD) cars parked at Times Square in New York, October 18, 2011. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

A pedestrian walks past a line of New York Police Department (NYPD) cars parked at Times Square in New York, October 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday warned that financially strained police forces around the country likely will shrink for the first time in the quarter century in which statistics have been tallied.

Holder said that by the end of this year, 12,000 police officers and sheriff's deputies probably will lose their jobs amid government budget shortfalls and cuts in a sluggish economy, citing a new Justice Department report.

"The findings included in this new report show that law enforcement agencies nationwide have nearly 30,000 unfilled vacancies," he said in prepared remarks to U.S. police chiefs.

"In 25 years of collecting data, we are now seeing the first-ever national decrease in law enforcement positions."

The report was done by the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services office, COPS.

Last month, the COPS office unveiled $240 million in grants to help cities and municipalities hire or retain just over a thousand officers for three years, but budget cuts in Washington threaten to reduce federal aid for hiring.

Holder tried to rally support for President Barack Obama's jobs bill, which has $4 billion for law enforcement hiring but has gone nowhere in Congress.

The Senate has proposed $200 million and none has been allocated in the House of Representatives, he said.

"That is a drastic and unacceptable gap -- one that can't be closed without your immediate attention and assistance," Holder said.

Even with the budget cuts, FBI statistics have shown that violent crime has consistently dropped over the last four years.

The COPS report found that furloughs of sworn officers for 40 hours or more in a year would likely double this year to 6.9 percent from 3.4 percent from 2009.

Law enforcement agencies have been instituting hiring freezes and cutting travel and training to avoid layoffs, furloughs and big cuts to service.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)

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