Proposed budget cuts target COPS funding

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Local police departments that have benefited from federal money say they will probably not be affected if funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services program is cut as proposed in the federal budget for 2006.

The proposed budget President Bush submitted to Congress includes the allocation of $2.2 billion more for the Department of Justice than was allocated for 2005. Bush's proposal would increase spending to prevent terrorism and foreign espionage but would cut money that previously went to local law enforcement agencies.

Drastically cut would be the COPS program, to $22 million from last year's $499 million.

In Jackson and Cape Girardeau, as in police departments across the country, COPS money put officers into schools as resource officers and to teach DARE classes -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education. The federal money gave both departments an opportunity to hire personnel they could not otherwise afford. COPS grants allowed departments to hire officers for three-year periods. The grants paid the salaries and benefits, but the local agencies paid for training and equipment. After those three years were over, it was up to the department to find the money to keep the positions open.

From COPS' inception in 1994, Cape Girardeau police were able to hire two officers for fiscal years 1995 and 1996. The following year, according to chief Steve Strong, the department did not participate because it could not come up with matching funds, but after that, it was able to secure another grant through COPS that allowed it to hire five officers who were assigned to community policing activities.

Between 1994 and 2004, Jackson police filled six positions with COPS money, said chief James Humphreys. The most recent influx of COPS money, he said, put a resource officer in the Jackson middle school and allowed the police to put a DARE instructor in the parochial schools.

Filling the gaps

Grant regulations require that police departments keep a COPS-funded job open after the grant runs out for a year. All of the positions in Jackson remain filled, said assistant city administrator Larry Koenig. He said that Jackson took advantage of the grant money because it was available and created positions the city could afford to support on its own when the grant money ran out.

Cape Girardeau has kept the positions COPS created, Strong said, but during the recent budget constraints, if an officer left one of those positions, it was left vacant.

Three-fourths of the salary of the two school resource officers is now paid by the school district and one-fourth by the city, said Cape Girardeau police Capt. Carl Kinnison. A community resource officer hired through COPS is now paid by the city. Koenig said that Jackson also shares the school resource officer salary with Jackson schools since the resource officer spends more time at school than in the community.

Both departments said they had no plans to pursue any further COPS money.

"We're doing pretty good right now," Humphreys said. "We would have to show a major need to get one now."

CapeGirardeau Capt. Randy Roddy said when a department qualifies for funding, the Department of Justice would say how much could be drawn down based on a funding formula. Initially Cape Girardeau would qualify for between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. Then the formula dwindled down to $15,000.

"Last year we came in under formula," Roddy said. "We tapered down to zero."

If the program is drastically sliced as the president proposes, the lack of COPS money might not directly affect the police departments, but indirectly it could still have an impact.

"If other agencies we are working with, like the highway patrol or the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force, lose grant money, then the work we are doing in conjunction with them is lost," Strong said. "It depends on what grants they are getting."

"We're not in desperate need," Humphreys said. "We always try for grants when we can get them. If the money is there, we're definitely going to try for some."

Humphreys said the COPS money has made it possible for community resource officers to have a positive presence in the Jackson schools.

"Kids in the middle school love the officer out there," he said. "They think he's the greatest thing since peanut butter."

High school students are less enthusiastic, he said, but have come to see that police are accessible.

The budget has only recently gone to Congress; numbers are being shuffled and will continue to be changed until the budget is voted on later in the year. Historically Congress has rejected similar cost-cutting measures for law enforcement.

335-6611, extension 160

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