Through the first half of fiscal year 2015, the Department of Justice distributed $505 million in grants to law enforcement agencies. Since each grant serves a distinct purpose, departments are required to follow specific guidelines both as part of the application process and after funding begins.
Local precincts and sheriff’s offices are advised to anticipate the depth and bureaucracy that accompanies such opportunities by thoroughly understanding how grants work and how they benefit law enforcement operations.
Budget cuts disrupt the mission of police departments
The current era of austerity imposed by state and municipal governments keeps most agencies operating on a tight budget. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, more than 85 percent of police precincts were forced to make budget cuts. The Fraternal Order of Police estimated that as many as 15,000 sworn officer positions were lost as a result of financial constraints.
According to information compiled by the University of Cincinnati, police departments experienced drastic changes due to economic recession. To stabilize their budgets, 43 percent of police departments imposed hiring freezes for both sworn and civilian positions. 22 percent laid off employees, and 36 percent made reductions through attrition by not filling open positions. More than 28,000 police officers were furloughed for at least 40 hours in 2011, the equivalent of over 500 full-time positions.
For those who do remain in service, training is in jeopardy. The state of Michigan lost a primary source of funding for officer training when its budget dried up. The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES), which issues about $1.6 million in grants, attributed the financial decline to fewer officers in the state—needed to generate revenue through fines—and increasing overhead when managing the programs. Eighteen employees are responsible for 20 training academies and almost 600 police agencies.
Without enough personnel, it becomes difficult for police to enforce the law. According to Law Enforcement Today, for example, budget cutbacks limited the Portland Police Bureau Domestic Violence Reduction Unit to pursue just 500 of roughly 6,000 referred cases each year. Two thirds of law enforcement agencies surveyed by PERF made cuts to overtime spending, making it difficult to police neighborhoods in response to sudden spikes in criminal activity.
Grant agencies incentivize law enforcement innovation
As a means to offset budget cuts, grants serve an important role in the public safety ecosystem. Among the police agencies applying to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program in 2011, more than one-third experienced a budget drop exceeding 5 percent over the previous two years.
Federal grants are significant sources of financial aid. The Department of Homeland Security invested $1.6 billion to support mission-critical work in nine separate areas of counterterrorism and emergency response through their 2015 preparedness grants:
- The State Homeland Security Program is a block-based system providing more than $402 million to states and territories.
- The Urban Area Security Initiative allocates $587 million to the top 28 urban areas in the country.
- Operation Stonegarden, a $55 million initiative, is designed to thwart terrorist activity by increasing cooperation and coordination between all agencies.
- The Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program gives $10 million to eligible tribal nations who will improve security preparedness both on and off reservations.
Often, the goal of such funding is to spread the adoption of innovative strategies, techniques and technology. To earn their financial support, applicants have to match department needs with the mission of the grant provider.
For example, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program supports law enforcement agencies that cannot afford bulletproof armor. This gear is especially critical during raids and other high-risk activities, reducing the likelihood of death and disability for police officers called to duty. However, the Department of Justice demands that grant recipients first have a written policy dictating the situations for which sworn officers will always wear the vests. This stipulation helps to ensure utility of the equipment.
In June 2015, the Casper Police Department received a three-year, $300,000 grant to implement a victim response strategy developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The funding allows the Wyoming agency to undergo extensive officer re-training and education—with a greater emphasis on working closely with the community to improve victims’ livelihoods in the aftermath of rape and domestic assault—to improve the sense of safety for victims. Two other departments, in Tennessee and Michigan, were also chosen to receive the DoJ grant.
In exchange for financial support, the grant requires documentation that will help to determine if the strategy is evidence-based. Advocate Leslie Fritzler anticipated a cultural change in the department that will shift their practice to a victim-centered approach.
A strong problem statement is the foundation of a proposal
Since grants are such an important part of financial planning, law enforcement agencies benefit from deep understanding of the application process. Success requires due diligence to establish a compelling need in police operations that can be addressed through grant funding.
An extensive document, the OJP Financial Guide assists future award recipients to make sure funds are used for their intended purpose. Law enforcement agencies can use the resource to develop an outline of all the prerequisites they need to receive and maintain funding. Information includes:
- Definitions of the parties privy to federal grants
- Special conditions that agencies can attach to a grant award
- Procedures to adjust a grant after it is awarded
- Indirect costs of a project, such as facility operations, staff training and asset depreciation
Taking time to read the 141-page document can maximize the impact a grant can have on a department.
After establishing a good match, a law enforcement agency must write a proposal that presents a compelling case for receiving the grant. The foundation of a proposal is a strong problem statement, specifying both the target population and region of service. This explanation should be clear, concise and well-supported, carefully following any directions specified by the funder. As Denise Schlegel writes, “Many grant writers fail to create a sound problem statement by introducing problems that are not clearly stated in the Request for Proposal.”
The proposal should frame the funding issue based on a situation rather than need. For example, instead of stating a need for bulletproof vests, a Sheriff’s office could cite evidence that gun-based crime is on the rise, and the armor is necessary to protect officers. Applicants should also be able to explain why it is necessary to solve the problem with grant funds, rather than financial support budgeted by local or state agencies.
The IACP Best Practices Guide to grant writing reminds authors to think about who is reading the proposal. Since most grants are highly competitive, the reviewer is likely reading several other proposals in succession. They may be unfamiliar with the stated problem and require details sufficient to clarifying the plan. A reviewer needs to quickly understand that their grant money is likely to be effective in addressing the stated problem and that the agency is capable of successfully managing the funds. Those reassurances should be revisited in a summary conclusion, as well.
In order to determine success of the project, an evaluation plan must describe the metrics used during oversight of the project. Agencies can only hold on to grant money for so long, so it’s necessary to have a timeline with a specific completion date and a detailed budget demonstrating where the grant money will go.
Investing the time to research and prepare a comprehensive grant proposal will increase the likelihood of successfully acquiring funds needed to fill gaps in law enforcement service, or to correct shortcomings that hamper the mission of the department.
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