(CNSNews.com) – Hagerstown, Maryland has received a $625,000 grant to hire five police officers as part of a Justice Department program to advance “community policing.” The money is supposed to cover the new officers’ salary and benefits for three years, after which local funds will be needed to pay for the positions.
The funding is part of $111 million allocated this year through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which seeks to find employment for veterans who are returning from overseas to a stagnant economy and budget shortfalls.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) attended a press conference in Hagerstown on Monday to highlight the program, and she had announced the award in a press release in June. Hagerstown is the only city in the state to receive a grant through the program.
“This federal funding gets cops on the beat and puts veterans on the job,” Mikulski said in the statement. “More cops make neighborhoods safer by helping to reduce crime. Jobs for veterans makes our economy stronger and makes sure promises made are promises kept.”
Dr. Thomas Alexander, a lieutenant in the Hagerstown Police Department in charge of grant writing, said the program’s main focus is hiring veterans.
“It’s a veterans hiring program, basically,” he said. “It’s aimed primarily at hiring people that were post-9/11 veterans, military experienced.”
The Hagerstown Police Department, which employs about 96 officers, would not be able to make the hires without the grant, Alexander said.
The $625,000 grant comes at a cost to taxpayers of $125,000 for the salary and benefits of each of the five officers and those costs are supposed to be broken out over three years. As the press release states, “The grants provide 100 percent funding for approved entry-level salaries and benefits for three years for newly hired, full-time sworn officer positions and for rehired officers who have been laid off as a result of local budget cuts.”
Over three years, therefore, the grant will provide an average of $41,667 per year per officer. According to the jobs Web site indeed.com, the average annual salary for a police officer in Hagerstown, Md., is $36,000.
In order to receive the grant money, which is designed to cover three years per officer, the police departments must commit to keeping the new hires on staff for at least one year. Even if a new policeman is retained for only one year, the department gets the full $125,000 for that position. Alexander, who joined the force in 1975, said it is rare for those hired through grants to be laid off after the initial year, and that the local government will then pick up the tab.
“The whole idea behind grants to begin with is not for the government to take over the salaries forever -- it is to get you to a point where you can pick it up, to help you out a little bit,” he said. “Once that three years is up, I’m sure it’s every intention of the police department to try to get the city to take over the funding of those people and they have to for a year -- that’s the agreement with the grant.”
“I’ve been here quite a while and I’ve never known anyone, knock on wood, to be laid off,” Alexander said.
The $111-million overall grant is aimed at hiring 800 officers nationwide, at an average cost of $138,750 per officer. “The grants provide 100 percent funding for approved entry-level salaries and benefits for three years for newly hired, full-time sworn officer positions and for rehired officers who have been laid off as a result of local budget cuts,” states the press release.
If every police officer is employed for three years, the grant money per job averages out to $46,250, suggesting that the positions will have to be financially supplemented by state and local taxes.
This program comes three years after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus bill, appropriated $1 billion through the COPS program to 1,046 law enforcement agencies to “hire or rehire nearly 5,000 officers for 3 years.”
The stimulus initiative cost taxpayers $200,000 for each of the 5,000 officers hired, or $66,667 per year (for three years) with salary and benefits. Police departments may use the funding not only for new hires but can rehire recently laid-off employees from the force.
In addition, the 2011 COPS hiring program spent $247 million in grants for the hiring and re-hiring of full-time officers.
According to the Justice Department, the program kept a strong emphasis on “planned and existing community policing activities, along with creative strategies and the encouragement of multi-jurisdictional partnerships.”
According to the DOJ, a key pillar of the COPS program is to work with government agencies, community members, nonprofit groups, private businesses, and the media to “develop solutions to problems and increase trust in police.”
Alexander said the grant is a “positive thing” for the community.
“Those five people will give us five more people that we can integrate into what the chief [of police] and the City Police Department’s community-oriented policing strategy where we have more people out there to get involved with the different proactive strategic programs that we have and for the different crime initiatives we have going on,” he said.
“It’s five extra people when used the right way can definitely have a benefit in the community,” Alexander said.