Prospective COPS Hiring Applicants Weigh Risks vs. Rewards

June 21, 2011 | By Guest Contributor | Post a Comment

(This post was written by Megan Fillebrown, editorial assistant for Thompson’s grants group.) It may seem counterintuitive to fire police officers during a recession when crime is likely to increase, but that’s exactly what cities across the country are doing to cut costs.

According to a recent Huffington Post article, significant layoffs are occurring in communities faced with high-crime rates across the U.S. Camden, N.J., the second most dangerous city in the country, laid off almost half its police force last summer.  Oakland, Calif., the fifth most dangerous U.S. city, fired 10 percent of its officers.  East St. Louis, Ill. let go nearly a quarter of its force.

On the surface, it would seem that DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants would be a godsend for cities like these and the thousands of similar departments across the country, but it turns out that’s not necessarily the case.

COPS provides funding to hire new officers or rehire officers who have been laid off or are scheduled to be laid off.  The grants cover the salary and benefits of officers for three years.  It seems like the perfect solution for departments forced to cut staff size while simultaneously experiencing a dramatic increase in crime. There is one big catch, however, that’s preventing agencies from taking advantage of the funds: the officers have to be retained for at least one year once the grant money runs out.

The Star-Ledger recently reported that significantly fewer departments in New Jersey applied for COPS grants this year because they can’t afford to fund the fourth year.

In New Jersey, 157 local law enforcement agencies applied for funding to hire a total of 568 officers.  In the last round of COPS funding in 2009, 305 agencies applied for funding.  The decline matched a national trend.

The city of Newark applied for COPS funding to hire 50 officers, but the city cut 167 officers in November. Since losing 13 percent of the police force, there’s been a 71 percent increase in homicides and a 21 percent increase in overall crime.

If the additional year weren’t enough of a deterrent, the odds are against getting a grant once you apply.  Nationwide, 2,708 applicants requested $2 billion of funding, but only $246.8 million is available.

A New Jersey sergeant and spokesman for the state Patrolman’s Benevolent Association said that they pushed departments to apply in 2009 because the economy was facing cuts, but many of them were disappointed with the outcome and didn’t apply this year.  Only 14 percent of applications received funding in 2009.

As programs across the federal funding spectrum face cuts, sometimes drastic ones, in the current budget crunch the paradox of this situation raises a larger question for grant applicants and recipients.

With a high level of uncertainty around the availability of future funding and increased competition for the funds that are out there, will more organizations be deterred from competing for federal funds? What about you — has your organization faced challenges meeting sustainability requirements?

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