Local Cops Weigh in on COPS Grant Possibilities

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If overwhelming U.S. House approval is any indicator, the nation could see upwards of 50,000 new police officers through federal grants.

The return of the Clinton-era COPS program could fund 2,500 new officers over six years for Texas. So would local departments be interested again?

It was just last week that the U.S. House approved the reinstatement of the Community Oriented Policing Services Program.

"This program was ended last year," said District 17 Congressman Chet Edwards, who voted in favor of the bill, "and it's something that is important to our communities, to our families, and I have two children. Nothing's more important than the security and safety of our loved ones."

The possibility of grants being available to hire new cops is always intriguing to the cops themselves.

"With the new high school and new middle school coming online, that's certainly an avenue we're going to explore," said Bryan Assistant Police Chief Freddie Komar. Among the grants on the table could be one for school-assigned officers.

"The COPS grants provide us a unique opportunity to mitigate those costs and allow us to get that officer on the street without touching the general fund," said CSPD Assistant Chief Scott McCollum.

Both Bryan and College Station were able to hire new officers through the COPS program's initial run starting in the mid-90s. Bryan PD officials say around three officers were added to their force, while College Station PD reports 10 slots were earmarked for them over the course of the original COPS program.

Of course, the federal funds do eventually run out. COPS grants of the past were on a sliding scale, paying for 100 percent of the costs to hire the officer, but eventually leaving the cities to pay fully for that cop a few years later.

"You've actually got councils that have to make a decision on approving a grant application when it may not be the same councilmembers that are in office when the bills have to be paid," Komar said.

Then there's the competition for the grants. Departments in major cities were able to secure major numbers of new officers in the original plan. It's the smaller communities, McCollum says, that can sometimes get left out.

"We have risks here in our community that we must protect," he said. "It sometimes is extremely competitive when you have the Houstons, the Dallas-Fort Worths, the San Antonios that we're competing against."

However, in the minds of both BPD and CSPD officials, while there are catches to what they believe is a net-positive program, the idea of finding a way to up the officer ante means preventative measures across town.

"If we have an officer who's running from call to call to call, that officer doesn't do much preventative work," McCollum said. "He doesn't prevent crimes. He doesn't create self-initiated activity."

Hence the interest of "Community Oriented Policing" grants, if reapproved.

During the initial run of the grants program, crime rates did sharply decline in the nation, though government and private studies are at odds over whether the COPS program was a major factor.