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Playing the Grant Game

Money is out there for new equipment and officers, but winning it requires you to apply for it, follow the rules, and push every button.

August 02, 2011  |  by Ronnie Garrett


What could your department do with $250,000? Would you buy squad cars, add staff, purchase new equipment?

What sounds like a pipe dream is actually a dream come true for those departments that have successfully pursued grant monies to fill budgetary shortfalls.

The Division of Criminal Justice recently awarded $5.75 million in federal grants to 17 New Jersey cities facing high levels of violent crime. These funds will enable departments to purchase "force multiplying" crime-fighting technologies they might otherwise have been unable to afford.

The money, which will be distributed as $500,000 grants to larger cities and $250,000 to smaller cities, may be used to purchase technologies such as closed-circuit TV cameras with gun shot detection capabilities, automated license plate readers, mobile data terminals, and communications equipment.

However, while the state has allocated specific amounts to each city, police departments must apply to the Division of Criminal Justice to receive the funds. Letters with grant applications and information were mailed to departments in April.

And for agencies such as the Jersey City Police Department, no one had to ask them twice to get those applications in.

"In this era of declining levels of funding and decreased staffing levels, police agencies must explore other means to augment the efficiency of our officers," Jersey City Police Chief Thomas Comey stated in a release put out by New Jersey's Office of the Attorney General. "This funding will afford the Jersey City Police Department the opportunity to upgrade and expand our technology to better protect our community."

As the Jersey City example illustrates, the money exists, but it's only available to those who apply for it-and that's where many police agencies fall short, says Denise Schlegel, president of DS Schlegal and Associates, whose firm provides grant writing training and facilitation services.

"The biggest challenge to law enforcement is the time to get it done and get it done right," she says. "It takes time and it has to be done correctly or you won't get the funds."

Recession Proof?

In a climate where tight budgets and scarce resources seem to rule the day, it's logical to think law enforcement grants may be drying up. But that's not accurate, says Thomas Caves, special assistant to the secretary at the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety and instructor for Grant Writing USA.

Grants change every time a new administration enters office, Caves says. Just as the Bush Administration chopped COPS grants in favor of Homeland Security funding, the Obama Administration, too, has altered the funding structure. But, he stresses, the funds generally remain stable; they are simply awarded via a new funding mechanism.

He does warn, however, there are efforts afoot to reduce overall spending within the government, which may impact public safety allocations.

Margaret Stark, senior certified grant consultant with Avon Protection Systems, notes the status of several federal grants, which have been the mainstay of law enforcement, are still unknown. And while rumors are afloat that these grants will see substantial cuts, she says "nothing has been officially posted as to what changes will occur."

Even so, Caves predicts funding will remain stable. "In my experience," he says, "public safety dollars tend to remain level [even during tough economic times]."

What is certain, says Stark, is that agencies across the country have seen their budgets slashed to cope with local budgetary crises, and this will increase law enforcement's reliance on grant funding. "In years past, when funding was plentiful, there were some questionable grants funded. I don't think we're going to see that anymore," she says. "Competition will be fierce-everyone is broke. Agencies will need to take advantage of everything at their disposal to ensure they get funding because there will be more agencies than ever applying for it."

Know Thy Grants

When the competition heats up, the best teams train harder;  that's what agencies will need to do to win the funding game.

First, Caves says departments should know what types of grants are available; they include the following:

  • Discretionary Grants. Here, the federal government reviews grant applications and weighs them against set legislative and regulatory requirements and published selection criteria, then awards funding to the applications that best address program requirements.
  • Block Grants. This is a large sum of money granted by the federal government to state governments with general provisions as to how it is to be spent. The federal government might set 27 uses for the money, but the state might only allow six. Unlike discretionary grants, the federal government offers broad guidelines but the states have the final say on how the money can be used. Therefore, applications for block grant money should be directed to state governments.
  • Earmarks. This is a legislative provision that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects. "An earmark is essentially the effort of a congressman to send money home to his or her district," Caves says.

Agencies can also look to the corporate community and private foundations for funding, adds Schlegal.

Show Me the Money

Grant funding changes every year, so the next most important step is to know what grants are available. Departments can follow the money by attending grant-writing courses and training a close eye on Congressional dialogue. "What they are talking about on the Hill is probably going to become a grant at some point in time," Caves says.

There are a number of excellent resources that can help departments track available funds, adds Stark., for instance, provides a unified site for interaction between grant applicants and the federal agencies managing grant funds. A police chief looking to secure funding for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can simply type in PPE on the site to retrieve a list of available funding sources. "This site posts all available grants, so they also may find funding for things they are not looking for," Stark says, which is where a site such as can help. sifts through the info on to locate grants benefiting public safety, then lists those grants on its site with links to the federal grant information and application at

Other grant sources include:

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