City seeks federal aid to beef up police ranks

Published 7:57 am Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The city will apply for two federal grants that, if successful, will bring in more than $1 million and put more police officers on the streets.

Both are competitive grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice and funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17.

The first grant is through the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, and is called the COPS Hiring Recovery Program. A written overview of the grant said it is designed to “create and preserve (law enforcement) jobs and to increase their community policing capacity and crime prevention efforts.”

The government plans to provide up to $1 billion in total funding for CHRP, which would pay 100 percent of the salaries and benefits for new police officers for three years. The city is seeking $550,000 from CHRP.

Although there is no cap on how much municipalities may request through CHRP, there is one caveat: After three years, the municipalities must maintain any positions that were created or funded through the grant and assume the funding for them.

“You need to make note that we do not have the money to fulfill the requirement of the (CHRP) grant to take over and assume responsibility for the personnel that we get under that grant for three years,” said City Manager June Fleming. “I do not see it on the horizon without some extraordinary means to be taken, and the obvious one that comes to everyone’s mind is a tax increase. We have suggested that’s inevitable. We will need to know what kind of funds we’re dealing with.”

The city will also apply for $476,330 from the Edward Byrne Memorial Competitive Grant, which will, according to the federal government, “help communities improve the capacity of state and local justice systems and provide for national support efforts, including training and technical assistance programs strategically targeted to address local needs.” The city would assume no costs from the Byrne grant.

The two grant proposals total $1,026,330. The deadline for applying for the CHRP grant was Tuesday. The Byrne grant deadline is April 27.

“Simply because of the fact that we applied, there is no guarantee that we will be awarded 10 positions, five or any,” said Police Chief Phil Hardison, who has proposed the hiring of 10 additional officers to combat rising drug crimes in the city. “This is a competitive grant process that extends across the United States.”

Hardison told the City Council that he did not know when a decision on the grants would be made but that if Franklin were awarded any funding, especially from CHRP, “Ms. Fleming will be briefed and you will know. And then you will know in terms of numbers what we have. If we accept anything, there needs to be a concerted plan that starts right then to meet the demands three years from the date of acceptance – and not to wait until the expiration of the grant and the city becomes responsible for it.”

He added, “Even in terms of being awarded a certain amount of money, before we’re responsible for that, we have to accept it. And by applying and competing in this process, that does not mean we are accepting anything. It just means we are applying.”

It was the second consecutive City Council meeting where law enforcement needs were seriously discussed. On March 23, Hardison requested 10 additional police officers to combat illegal drugs. The City Council did not respond to the chief’s request but informally agreed to appoint a crime task force. The additional officers would cost $500,000 a year in salaries and benefits, and at least an additional $250,000 would be needed for vehicles and equipment.

City officials were excited about the grant opportunities.

“(The police) are to be commended,” Fleming said. “We have a (police) department that’s carefully researched and put together what they think is a funding package.”

Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson echoed that sentiment, adding, “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to our chief, staff and city manager for meeting this challenge because the dynamics of our city are changing, and they’re changing fast. So I know that there is a great need.”

Hardison thanked Deputy Chief Bruce Edwards for the “countless and tireless hours that he spends researching and preparing (for grants). He has brought literally hundreds of thousands of dollars not only into our organization but also into this city through his diligent service and research. He stays on top of it.”