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City may not ask for maximum for new cops

Thursday, April 9, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Although the federal government is offering stimulus money that would fund 150 new police officers for the City of Austin, the city may decide to seek only enough money to hire 50 or 60 new officers. That’s because the grant money for any officers hired under the program would run out in three years, making the city responsible for paying the salary and benefits of the newly hired officers in subsequent years.


Police Chief Art Acevedo told In Fact Daily the COPS grant for community policing would help the city in some crime hot spots. He said the new officers would be a part of SPEAR (Special Problems Enforcement and Response) teams.


“When we see crime spikes in different neighborhoods, we want to be able to put officers on the ground, on bicycles and on foot…While fighting crime in those hot spots they will get to know the good people in the neighborhood,” which also helps fight crime, Acevedo said.


As part of the federal stimulus package, Acevedo said, “The Department of Justice has freed $4 billion for city police departments to obtain grant funds. We are in discussions with the city manager and the budget office to try to figure out what is an appropriate number to ask for, taking into consideration our needs and the financial impact moving forward.” That might turn out to be only 50-60 officers, he said.


Although crime is going up, Acevedo said, “We have to balance the need for more police officers with the need for balancing our books. Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll have a better understanding of what the city can afford.”


Council Member Mike Martinez says he thinks the city should ask for the maximum amount of funding. “We could apply for 150 (officers) to be fully funded for three years. I think we should ask for the full amount and see if that’s granted,” he said. Martinez argues that regardless of the city’s economic situation, the city will be hiring 150 officers over the next three years.


He said the first year of COPS funding for each new officer would bring the city $50,000. So, if the city got enough for 150 new officers, that would mean $7.5 million in federal funding for each year of the grant, probably three years. Martinez said he recognized the concerns of the budget office, but added, “The whole point is, instead of not applying we should at least apply and then determine whether we can fully fund them at the five-year point.”


Deputy Chief Financial Officer Greg Canally, who is coordinating the stimulus effort for City Manager Marc Ott, confirmed that the city would be applying for COPS grant funds. He insists that the city has “not settled on the number,” of new officers to ask for under the stimulus program. However, he says the analysis will include “costs that the city would need to incur both upfront and later.”


The city would have to pay for equipment for new officers, training, and other one time costs associated with cadets, Canally said. In addition, the city is “trying to understand all the federal requirements associated with this program,” noting that the stimulus funding “comes with a lot of monitoring and reporting and a lot of restrictions.”


Canally said city staff would be making a recommendation to the City Council this week so the Council can tell the staff their preferences at next Monday’s special called meeting. Tuesday is the deadline for applying for the COPS grants.

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