South Florida cops receive millions in federal dollars

Miami Herald Staff Report

Posted on Tuesday, 07.28.09

police_starbucksThe Obama administration on Tuesday announced another round of grants for law enforcement agencies, including scores in South Florida, to help keep more cops on the beat during the economic downturn — and tried to assure cities not getting aid that they won’t be stiffed.

Police agencies throughout South Florida were awarded more than $17 million in federal grant money. The grants in Florida range from a high of $11 million to the Miami Police Department to the $134,000 for the Brooksville police department.

“In these hard economic times,” Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney said, “This is a gift from heaven.’

Other South Florida police agencies receiving money include Fort Lauderdale, Miramar, Miami Gardens, North Miami Beach, the Seminole Tribe, Hallandale, Hollywood, Lauderhill and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.

The aid announced by Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder in Philadelphia is just a fraction of what police departments across the country had hoped to get.

For every $1 to be delivered, another $7 in requests will go unanswered under the grant program, Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly called COPS.

Four major U.S. cities are finding this out the hard way: New York, Houston, Seattle and Pittsburgh are among those that will not get money because the Justice Department decided other parts of the country simply needed it more, officials said.

“These officers will go to where they are needed most,” Holder said, adding that the decision about who gets money was made “based on crime rates, financial need and community policing activities.”

The demand — from more than 7,000 agencies — is indicative of the tough times they are facing, he said.

The money will not only keep 4,700 officers on the street, but will enable them to make house and car payments, make ends meet and save for their children’s future, he said.

Biden called paying cops’ salaries “a moral obligation.”

About 7,000 state and local agencies applied for aid under the COPS program that is part of the $787 billion stimulus package passed earlier this year. Of those, only about 1,000 were approved. Each state is entitled to at least $5 million in COPS money.

As local governments bleed red ink and officials look to plug budget gaps, they have swamped the government with a record number of requests for aid under the program. There is only $1 available in grant money for every $8 sought.

As a result, the Justice Department decided the most worthy cities were those that faced serious budgetary problems and those that have relatively high crime rates.

New York is less needy by both measures, officials said, because of its low crime rate and stable city budget. New York also has the largest single police force in the country, and received some money from a different stimulus program earlier this year, about $29 million.

Tuesday’s announcement comes only months after Biden and other administration officials visited Miami to announce $135 million in stimulus money being distributed to law enforcement agencies in Florida.

The new grant money awarded Tuesday is seperate from other funds distributed earlier in the year, Timoney said.

In March, the administration announced that Miami would get more than $2.5 million to hire 10 additional police officers and 20 civilians, and to buy technology and equipment.

“It’s a little different than the old COPS grant which provided 75 percent funding over a four year period and the city was required to match 25 percent,” Timoney said. It was still unclear Tuesday whether Miami police would use the $11 million grant to hire new recruits, retain current officers, or a mix of both.

“This is going to assist our department in hiring or retaining at least 30 to 35 police officers on a yearly basis for the next three years,” Timoney said. The new grant provides funding for salaries, equipment, cars, and training for three years. In the fourth year, the city picks up the tab.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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