January 13, 2006
By Reuven Blau
President Bush Jan. 5 signed legislation that will reauthorize a grant program that may locally fund the hiring of more than 3,000 NYPD officers to help fight terrorism.
The reinstated Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program will give the NYPD an estimated $280 million to hire an additional 3,640 officers over the next four years, according to U.S. Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, who drafted and lobbied for the provision.
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But Jordan Barowitz, a mayoral spokesman, said the city was studying the new program. "The legislation is complex," he remarked. "It's not as simple as the city receiving additional money that it can use to hire more police officers."
To qualify for funds under the prior grant, municipalities were required to maintain a specific number of officers to prove the additional money was being used to hire more cops. It's not clear whether the new officers would have to supplement the NYPD's current head-count for the city to qualify for the Federal funding.
The reauthorization was included under the Violence Against Women Act and the Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. "This is the Federal Government getting off the sidelines and getting back in the game to provide funds for police localities," Mr. Weiner said hours after standing with the President as he signed the bill. "Whenever that happens, it's going be good for the largest lawenforcement agency in the nation."
In all, the program allocates more than $4 billion per year from 2006 to 2009 to pay for new cops. The grant, which was supported by every police organization in the nation, should help the NYPD maintain its headcount of roughly 37,000 officers.
"The NYPD is one of the few police departments in America that has fewer police officers today than it did on Sept. 11, 2001 despite the obvious increase in workload caused by anti-terrorism activities," noted Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, in a statement. "President Bush's signing of the [bill] will help to put more police officers on the street making our neighborhoods safe."
The COPS program officially expired in 2000, but the fund has existed for the past five years through year-to-year authorizations and appropriations in the Justice Department's spending bill.
President Bush, however, slashed the grant last year, maintaining that it was no longer necessary because the original hiring objectives had been met.
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The program was a contentious issue during last year's mayoral campaign. Several of Mayor Bloomberg's Democratic opponents, including Mr. Weiner, frequently criticized him for not doing enough to address the concerns about the reduced funding.
But Mr. Weiner was more conciliatory last week. "The Bloomberg administration was supportive," he said. "This is one of those successes that has many fathers."
Mr. Weiner noted that under the new grant police agencies will be able to use the money to fund "t-cops" or "terrorism cops," who specialize in thwarting terrorists. Local law-enforcement departments can also use the funds to pay for additional personnel and for new equipment such as radios and computers.
Under the prior structure of the grant, the added officers were paid $25,000 for each of their three years - covering more than half their base salaries in each year. By the fourth year, the officers' full salaries were paid by their departments.
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Since 1994, the Police Department has used the COPS program to employ an additional 7,406 officers at a cost of $603 million, according to Gilbert Moore, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice's COPS Office.
Mr. Moore said it was still unclear how the money would be disbursed. "In a practical sense there are going to be some guidelines," he remarked. "The language is certainly going to be different."
He added, "We want make sure that the resources that are available are consistent with future and current demands."
Mr. Weiner noted that the parameters of the grant had been changed. "The new legislation responds to some of the critics of the program by making it more flexible," he remarked.
The hiring program was established in 1994 after President Bill Clinton vowed to put 100,000 new officers on the streets nationwide. The program was designed to supplement police agencies' headcounts and boost the number of patrol cops in an attempt to reduce violent crime.
The NYPD had maintained that ending the program would not lead to further cutbacks in the city's force. A department spokesman declined to comment on the impact of the grant.
John Driscoll, the president of the Captains' Endowment Association, contended that the grant would help only if the department increased the $28,900 annual starting salary for new officers. "New York is at the forefront of fighting terrorism," he observed. "We should be getting assistance from the Federal government, but we should also be getting better contracts."
According to Mr. Driscoll, the police force in Lexington, Ky. has increased its starting pay to $33,384 because it is having trouble recruiting new officers. "The cost-of-living there is a lot lower than in New York City," Mr. Driscoll added.
President Bush also signed legislation closing loopholes in Federal law that had allowed for the trafficking of fake police badges. According to Mr. Weiner, the NYPD receives more than 1,200 complaints each year about impersonators using fake badges to commit crimes.
Mr. Weiner noted that there is a provision in the new law allowing certified lawenforcement officers to purchase and carry fake badges. Many officers, Mr. Weiner pointed out, carry those badges because they are afraid of being penalized for losing their real shield.