A $625,000 federal grant will allow the Hagerstown Police Department to hire five new police officers and give veterans a chance to continue working in public service, U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin announced Monday.
The Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, Hiring Program, administered through the U.S. Department of Justice, will help improve local neighborhoods while offering veterans an opportunity to find good jobs, Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a news release.
“More cops make neighborhoods safer by helping reduce crime,” she said in the release. “Jobs for veterans make our economy stronger and make sure promises made are promises kept. Because I believe when men and women return from the front lines, they shouldn’t have to stand in line for a job. I will continue to do all I can to make our neighborhoods safer and help our veterans with jobs.”
Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith called it a “win-win situation for the community,” but said it would take more than a year for the staff additions to be completed.
“The (police) academy’s going to be close to seven months, and we’ve got to wait for another one to start,” Smith said, noting that field training would take an additional four months. “It’s a good year out to get anybody on the street, but it’s going to be a big help down the road.”
Smith said the police department is hopeful that Hagerstown Community College will consider restarting a local police academy, giving potential new hires a nearby place to train.
“The military’s downsizing,” he said. “Hopefully there’s going to be a lot of interest in this.”
Hagerstown’s grant is one of more than 220 awarded to cities and counties across the nation, aimed at creating or saving 800 law-enforcement positions, according to a news release from the White House Press Office.
The grants will fund more than 600 new law-enforcement jobs, as well as save an additional 200 positions recently lost or in jeopardy of being cut due to tighter local budgets, the release said.
All new law-enforcement positions funded by the program must be filled by recent military veterans who have served at least 180 days since Sept. 11, 2001, the release said.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for a new Veterans Jobs Corps initiative to help put veterans back to work on a range of projects that leverage skills developed in the military, including first-responder jobs, the release said.
In February, Obama announced his preference for this year’s COPS and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants to be given to communities that recruit and hire post-9/11 veterans to serve as police officers and firefighters, the release said.
“Since we got into office, the president and I have been committed to helping our returning heroes find jobs and transition back into civilian life,” Vice President Joe Biden said in the release. “A lot of them want to keep serving now that they’re back, and these COPS grants help give them that chance.”
Locally, improving public safety and honoring the men and women who have helped maintain national security are top priorities, Cardin said in the release.
“As the Hagerstown community continues to grow, so does its need for more police officers, and these federal dollars for the COPS Hiring Program will help improve public safety and will give veterans a real opportunity for employment,” he said in the release.
The grants provide full funding for approved entry-level salaries and benefits for three years for newly hired, full-time sworn officer positions, and for rehired officers who might have been laid off as a result of local budget cuts.
Grant disbursements would likely start in July, said Mikulski’s press secretary, Matt Jorgenson.
Along with the push to hire military veterans, grantees for the 2012 COPS Hiring Program were selected based on fiscal need and local crime rates, including specific problems such as increased homicide rates and gun violence.