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UPDATE Tacoma: Police Department wins $5 million grant to fund 15 officers’ jobs

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on June 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm with No Comments »
June 25, 2012 10:28 pm

The City of Tacoma has won a nearly $5 million federal grant to fund 15 police officer jobs for the next three years, city and federal officials announced Monday.

The $4.97 million, three-year U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant — combined with a $7.7 million two-year grant won last week by the Tacoma Fire Department — also will help fill at least part of Tacoma”s still lingering $11.8 million general fund shortfall in 2012.

“This is great news for Tacoma,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Monday. “We know that community-based policing consistently ranks high in our public safety strategy.  It gives us the biggest return for our investment of public safety dollars.”

Based on fiscal need and local crime rates, the Justice Department’s COPS Hiring Program makes grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies nationwide to hire or rehire community policing officers.  The grants cover officer salaries and benefits for three years, with recipient agencies agreeing to fund those costs for a fourth year.

In all, the Justice Department announced 800 police jobs in more than 220 cities and counties nationwide will receive $111 million in grant funding.  Tacoma, which received by far the largest award among eight agencies winning grants in Washington, also won one of the nation’s largest awards.  Only the City of Los Angeles, which won a $6.4 million for 25 police jobs, received a higher grant award.

Tacoma had applied for a $6 million grant to cover as many as 20 positions, city and police union officials have said.  Budgeted for 398 commissioned officers, the Tacoma Police Department is now operating with just 366 cops, Chief Don Ramsdell told the City Council last week.

The grant announced Monday will cover just 15 police jobs, but program administrators have told the city it received the maximum COPS grant for a department of its size,  Tacoma Police Union President Terry Krause said.

“We’re really just ecstatic for whatever amount they were able to give us,” he added.

At Strickland’s invitation, police and fire union officials traveled with the mayor to Washington D.C. earlier this year to lobby for the federal grants and meet with the state’s Congressional delegation for help.

“We presented our situation and made our case,” Strickland said.

The collaborative approach seemed to impress grant administrators, Krause added.

“I think the mayor’s approach was a big part of the reason why we succeeded,” he said. “When the COPS grant administrators saw us sitting together, unified across the table — the city’s mayor and the union’s representatives — that made a big impression.”

For months, city officials and representatives for Tacoma’s public safety unions had waited for word about Tacoma’s applications for the grants.  City Manager T.C. Broadnax delayed making a second-round of city budget cuts until the grant decisions were made.

Late last year, more than 100 city police officers and firefighters faced lay-offs amid a huge budget shortfall facing the city’s 2011-12 general fund.  Pay concessions offered by the police and fire unions helped to temporarily avert those layoffs during a first phase of budget cuts.  But city officials warned public safety employees could still face job cuts later.

Only part of the multi-year police and fire grants will cover this year’s lingering budget hole, which must be closed by year’s end.  City officials have yet to say how much of the shortfall will be left — or how the city will address it — once prorated amounts of each grant award are applied to the 2012 budget.

As the city grapples to find sustainable solutions for future budgets, both the police and fire departments could still face cuts to items that aren’t protected under the grant awards’ terms, Broadnax said last week.

The city faces up to $65 million in projected deficits in its in 2013-14 general fund,  and up to $85 million in 2015-16.  Broadnax is now engaged in a budget planning process that seeks to incorporate citizen and City Council feedback about the city’s spending priorities.

“We still have work to do,” Strickland said. “But this is good news.”

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