2008-09-26 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Comment By Congressman Anthony Weiner

Driving over the Brooklyn Bridge or through the Holland Tunnel, you can only tip your hat to the brave men and women of the New York Police Department standing guard. Day in and day out they are there on watch, protecting our city.

Sadly, the way we give these police officers - and law enforcement across the country - the tools they need to do their jobs and protect us deserves more ire than respect.

The reality is that the way we allocate federal homeland security resources sometimes looks like its goal is to make every city feel like a risk rather than help protect the cities that are risks.

Think about it: the Department of Homeland Security originally designated seven high-threat urban areas to receive grants. Then they increased the number of high-threat areas to over 30 cities and regions. And today, 60 metropolitan areas receive funding.

What's more, nothing is stopping DHS from expanding this number to 75 or even 100 metro areas.

This lack of focus leads to a series of problems, the first of which is waste. A search by my staff found the following examples of boondoggles: • $16 million in 2008 - and $63 million since 2004 - to teach truck drivers how

to report suspicious activity • $48,600 for security cameras to watch a water tower in rural Arizona.

• $3,000 for a "terrorism prevention" printer in North Dakota.

Every dollar spent in a low-risk area is a dollar not used in downtown Brooklyn or Flushing. With real threats out there, we simply cannot waste money watching random targets across the country.

We need no better reminder than the recent arrest of terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani-born, American-educated scientist who was detained last month in Afghanistan with a "wish list" of New York City targets, including maps of the Empire State Building, New York's Grand Central Terminal and the Statue of Liberty.

She didn't have maps of small towns and water towers.

We can do a better job identifying targets and assigning resources, and here's how:

Cap the Number of High-Threat Cities. Currently, 60 cities can receive funding from high-threat grants. That's simply too high. My bill would cap that number at 15.

Mid-size cities could still receive funding, but wouldn't compete with larger cities facing different threats.

Provide Grants Directly to Cities, not States. Under current law, funding passed through states before cities, and in many cases, states can keep 20 percent of the funding. This bill would make sure resources go exactly where they're needed.

Create "Credible Threat" Funding Standards. History has taught us that terrorists tend to target areas with critical infrastructure, commuters and tourists, rather than rural areas. Instead of funding remote projects, we should use these primary factors in determining funding allocations.

Before my colleagues tsk-tsk my urban, some might say, New York-centric world view, let me make one thing clear: nothing in my legislation limits the ability of rural or suburban areas to get the funds. But this bill does say one thing: we have to stop adding more and more cities when it is clear that the largest cities are at the greatest risk.

Moreover, when you start thinking about the 50 largest cities, the largest metropolitan areas, there are cities on the list that do not even have minor league baseball teams, yet they are considered major urban areas.

It's time we did more than just tip our hat at the men and women protecting us. It's time we stop sending money out to protect water towers from phantom threats, and give law enforcement under credible threats the tools that they need to do their jobs.

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