If awarded the full $1 million federal COPS grant that City Council authorized applying for Tuesday, the Statesboro Police Department could hire eight additional officers. The grant would cover not quite 75% of their salaries and benefits for three years.
The city is required to provide at least 25% of the pay and benefits, and the federal funding through the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, office of the U.S. Justice Department is capped at a three-year total of $125,000 per officer. So the city’s three-year share in the compensation costs is estimated at $584,441. Additionally, since the grant does not cover any equipment, the city would need to spend about $600,000 more at first for eight patrol cars, body cameras, radios, body armor, firearms, Tasers and other equipment, according to Chief of Police Mike Broadhead’s memo for the mayor and council.
If the full grant is awarded, the SPD’s challenge will then be to recruit and actually hire that many officers. The funding is for three years, but there is a five-year window to hire all of the officers.
“The real challenge for us is going to be, can we find those officers in that window that are above and beyond what we’re already authorized,” Broadhead said after Tuesday’s meeting. “You can’t just backfill and say, ‘Well, we have 10 openings and we hire eight people; Great! We get reimbursed.’ This has to be on top of our authorized strength.”
Within its budgeted workforce of about 94 people, the department is authorized by the mayor and council to employ 77 certified officers, about 32 of whom are of whom are “line level” patrol officers. With an internal study performed by SPD administrative officers in 2020 based on the previous year’s calls for service, the department reported a need for 28 more patrol officers to reach the levels suggested by an International Association of Chiefs of Police formula.
Last spring during the city’s budget-making process, Broadhead asked that eight of those positions be added this year. But City Manager Charles Penny did not make any new police positions a formal part of the budget. He instead successfully proposed a 3% raise for all city employees and suggested that the boost in pay for beginning SPD officers to slightly over $39,000 a year could help with recruiting.
Struggling for 77
Penny also noted in April that he and Broadhead had agreed he could “overhire” for several more officers if the department first sustains the authorized level of 77 officers. So far that hasn’t happened.
“We’re struggling to get to our authorized 77, always hovering around 74 or 75. We had a couple of retirements this summer and were pushed back to 73,” Broadhead said Tuesday. “So we’ve got to get to 77 and then we’ve got to have eight on top of that, so the nice thing about the five-year window is it gives us time to sort of get over that hurdle.”
But the possibility of Statesboro getting $1 million in federal help toward adding eight officers was enough to motivate District 4 Councilman John Riggs to make the motion to apply. On June 1 after Riggs cast the one “nay” vote in the council’s 4-1 approval of the fiscal year 2022 city budget, he cited an insufficient commitment to police funding as his reason. The new fiscal year began Thursday, July 1.
After Riggs made the motion for the COPS grant resolution Tuesday, District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack seconded it, and the vote was 4-0.
“This is an absolute blessing,” Riggs said after the meeting. “We only found out about this about a month ago. … You can’t beat it. Eight new officers over three years is fantastic.”
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum, who was absent Tuesday, had brought the COPS grant to the attention of other city officials and also would have approved, Riggs said.
Riggs said he did not know whether he would have voted for the budget if he had known about the grant and the city had been able to apply for it sooner but he had thought about this and spoken to Penny about it.
“I told Mr. Penny if I had known about this a year ago I might have acted a little different on a lot of issues,” Riggs said.
Because these are COPS grants, the officers hired are expected to be assigned community-oriented policing duties. In applying, departments are free to define what that means in their communities, but grant winners have to prove that they do what was proposed, Broadhead said.
In Statesboro, community-oriented policing would mean that each COPS-funded officer is assigned primarily to one of the SPD’s four patrol zones and expected to get to know the neighborhood, instead of responding to radio dispatching for calls from all over town, he explained
“We would probably assign at least one person to each of those four zones to be not reliant on the radio so much but to just be there, be present, get to know people, walk around,” Broadhead said. “Because they’re not constantly trying to respond to calls, they can spend that quality time getting to know people.”
The Justice Department’s original deadline to apply for the 2021 COPS hiring grants was July 1, but this was extended to July 9. In fact, the city staff went ahead and submitted an application in time for the July 1 deadline since Penny felt confident that the mayor and council would support it, he said later Tuesday.
City officials expect to hear in about 60 days whether the SPD will receive a grant, Penny said. If the grant is awarded and additional officers hired, the city would have to budget that many officer positions for at least four years, with the fourth year being entirely a city expense.
Law bars retreat?
A new Georgia law enacted by the Legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year bars cities and counties from reducing their law enforcement budgets by more than 5% in a single year or cumulatively across five years. Asked if this could potentially affect Statesboro’s ability to cut back if it gains all of the grant-funded officers, Penny said he doubts such a reduction would happen.
“I don’t see us adding police officers and then trying to get rid of them,” he said. “Between firefighters and police, why would you add them and then decide you don’t want them? We have enough turnover in those positions that it’s hard to keep them all in those positions anyway.”