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Washington Turns on the Money Tap

The economic stimulus package pumps nearly $4 billion into state, local, and tribal law enforcement. But is that a good thing?

April 01, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid (Wikimedia Commons).

On Feb. 25, the 32 recruits graduating from the Worcester (Mass.) Police Academy walked across the stage at a local high school and received their shiny new badges and a congratulatory handshake. They then walked off stage and became a symbol of the fiscal problems facing some of the nation's law enforcement agencies when they were asked to return the badges and were laid off before hitting the streets.

With tax revenues declining and budgets under water, many agencies are feeling the strain. But help is on the way. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (known to most people as "the Stimulus") specifies about $4 billion in law enforcement funding for federal, state, local, and tribal agencies.

The biggest chunk of change coming from Washington is in two programs: Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants Program (Byrne-JAG).

COPS, which dates to the 1990s when President Bill Clinton proposed adding 100,000 cops to the "Thin Blue Line," has $1 billion to distribute to agencies that need to hire new officers and rehire laid-off officers.

Byrne-JAG has two pots of money totaling $2.225 billion that have to be spent within rather loose parameters for crime prevention and drug enforcement. More about that in a minute.

Hiring Cops

Under the COPS program, agencies can apply directly to the COPS office at Agencies that receive COPS grants will get three years' worth of salary and benefits per new officer or rehire of a laid-off officer. They must also agree to keep that officer on duty for the fourth year. And it would be unwise for an applicant to indicate that it can't keep the new officers past that fourth year. "Those agencies that can bring us a plan to incorporate these officers into their budgets and to maintain these positions will have a better shot than the rest," says COPS spokesperson Corey Ray.

COPS says the $1 billion in grants is expected to fund 5,500 officers with average salary and benefits of $60,000 per annum per officer. But unlike previous COPS grants for hiring, the Stimulus grants do not require agencies to make a local match, nor is there a salary cap.

"Taking away the local match requirement helps agencies dealing with the tough economy," says Ray. "There is still a local buy-in because of the fourth year requirement, but we wanted to make it easier for more agencies to compete for these dollars."

The COPS application process opened on the program's Website on March 16. Within 24 hours, 846 agencies had applied for the funds. And there's a reason for their quick response: The application deadline is April 14. Ray says the grants will likely be awarded as early as July.

Byrne-JAG Grab Bag

Guidelines for the $2.225 billion in Stimulus money for Byrne grants are considerably more vague.

The largest pot is $2 billion for Byrne-JAG grants. According to Susan Oliver, spokesperson for the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Byrne-JAG grants can be spent on "state and local initiatives, technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, information systems, research and evaluation activities, and improved or enhanced law enforcement programs." That pretty much means that these grants can be used for anything in the realm of crime prevention and drug enforcement except for hiring new officers and constructing new buildings.

So if an agency needs a car for patrolling or new laptops for that car or TASERs or new radios, it may be able to fund the purchase with a Byrne-JAG grant. The only rub is that a chief or sheriff can't apply directly for these funds. The funds are being allocated directly to local governments according to a formula based partly on population served and FBI violent crime statistics.

Here's the way it works: Each local government and state has a certain allocation of funding for law enforcement set aside in the Stimulus portion of the Byrne-JAG program. In order to get that funding, each law enforcement agency must make the case with its local government and then the local government has to make a specific grant application to the BJA to receive some of its allocated funds for that purpose such as buying new computers or retaining veteran officers.

Most agencies have already decided how they want to spend their Byrne-JAG Stimulus funds. And with good reason; the purpose of the Stimulus is to get the economy moving now, not later, so deadlines are tight. Applications for Byrne-JAG grants have to be submitted by May 18. That's why some companies that make law enforcement equipment such as TASER International are offering their customers assistance in writing grant applications.

Byrne-JAG accounts for the lion's share of the BJA stimulus funds, but there is another Byrne grant program included in the Stimulus. A total of $225 million has been set aside for Byrne Competitive Grants. Agencies can apply directly for this money. The deadline for this program had not been set at presstime, but it's a good bet that it will be soon.

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