President Obama’s stimulus package will provide a much-needed boost for cash-strapped law enforcement agencies struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels – and, in some cases, for agencies struggling to maintain a staff at all.

The stimulus legislation, which Obama signed into law on Feb. 17, includes $4 billion in grant funding for state, local and tribal law enforcement efforts. Of that amount, $1 billion is set aside for the hiring and rehiring of additional law enforcement officers through the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Recovery Program.

According to the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the grants will provide three years of funding for newly hired full-time sworn officer positions – including new hires for existing unfunded vacancies – or for rehired officers who had been laid off or were scheduled to be laid off due to local budget cuts.

Andy Mournighan, director of governmental affairs for the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), told GovPro.com that the funding couldn’t come at a better time.

“Budgets have been tight these past couple years, and police departments have been struggling to hire new officers or even to fill vacancies,” Mournighan said. “And then at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, as budgets got even tighter with the recession, not only did police departments across the country have vacancies, but their [local governments] were looking to cut officers.”

Funding cuts to the COPS Hiring Recovery Program during President George W. Bush’s administration squeezed local law enforcement budgets even more, Mournighan asserted.

NAPO, which represents 241,000 rank-and-file law enforcement officers across the country, lobbied Congress and the Obama administration to include the COPS Hiring Recovery Program funding in the stimulus legislation.

“That’s why we consider it a big victory,” Mournighan told GovPro.com.

Based on NAPO’s membership, Mournighan said personnel is the No. 1 funding need for local law enforcement agencies.

“What good is equipment if you’ve got no one to run it, or if the person who was running it had to be laid off and then you have no one else capable of running that equipment because no one was able to be trained on it?” Mournighan said.

Also included in the stimulus plan’s funding for law enforcement is $2 billion for the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. The formula-based grant program supports state and local crime-fighting efforts, with 60 percent of the funding going to states and 40 percent going to local agencies.

The stimulus package also sets aside:

  • $225 million for Violence Against Women Act grants.
  • $225 million for Byrne competitive grants.
  • $225 million for tribal law enforcement assistance.
  • $125 million for rural law enforcement to combat drug-related crime.
  • $100 million for victim compensation and assistance.
  • $50 million for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program.

“This funding is vital to keeping our communities strong,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “As governors, mayors and local law enforcement professionals struggle with the current economic crisis, we can’t afford to decrease our commitment to fighting crime and keeping our communities safe. These grants will help ensure states and localities can make the concerted efforts necessary to protect our most vulnerable communities and populations.”

Oregon ready to help local agencies get their ‘fair share of the pie’

Hit hard by the economy as well as by cuts in federal timber subsidies, local law enforcement agencies in Oregon are in a “precarious position” as they brace for an expected uptick in crime due to the recession, according to Tony Green, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice.

That’s why the state attorney general’s office is forming a coalition with sheriffs, police chiefs, district attorneys and other law enforcement stakeholders to fight for federal stimulus money.

“These funds will be used to put more cops on the street, more patrols on the road in rural communities and more prosecutors in Oregon's courtrooms,” Oregon Attorney General John Kroger said. “Protecting public safety is a huge challenge in the best of times, but today, that challenge is even greater.”

Although much of the $4 billion in stimulus funds for law enforcement will be distributed by a formula based on population, a substantial amount of money will be awarded through a competitive grant process, which can put smaller counties and communities at a disadvantage.

“In the past, smaller counties and rural communities lacked the resources and grant-writing experience needed to obtain grants,” Kroger said. “So today, larger law enforcement agencies, like my own Department of Justice, will be helping smaller communities get their fair share of the pie.”

Green told GovPro.com that the state Department of Justice will serve as a “clearinghouse and coordinator for our local law enforcement partners.”

“We’re going to try and marshal our grant-writing expertise to help these local law enforcement agencies get as much as they possibly can,” Green said.

Because the budget situation is dire for many local law enforcement agencies, the emphasis in many cases will be on “trying to avoid cuts as opposed to expanding programs,” Green told GovPro.com.

For example, in Curry County, where the number of deputies has dropped from 16 in 1989 to five today, Sheriff John Bishop said the stimulus money “may mean the difference between having a sheriff’s office and not having one.”

“In other counties, the problem may be the ability to open all the beds at the local jail,” Green told GovPro.com. “Many counties in Oregon may have many more jail beds than they have the money to actually keep open.”