There are some areas of government that should be off limits, or nearly so, for austerity cuts, and public safety would fall into this category.
A properly staffed police force is a baseline service in any community. We emphasize properly staffed, because in some jurisdictions public-employee unions have stuffed local payrolls beyond the government’s ability to absorb the expense.
But we do not believe the horror stories of California and elsewhere apply here, where staffing appears to be mostly consistent with the need. So we applaud the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services hiring program, which will allow the City of Hagerstown to hire five police officers under a $625,000 federal grant.
The added police officers alone are good news, but even better is the program’s intent to give these jobs to veterans who are leaving military service. With operations over in Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, fewer men and women in uniform will be required, and as the military shrinks, our heroes will be looking for work in a tough economy.
The COPS program requires that those hired be veterans who have served at least 180 days since Sept. 11, 2001.
It’s well-documented that many veterans returning stateside have a difficult time melding back into civilian life. COPS will give them a positive outlet for their skills, and rewards the service of which we all owe our freedoms.
And unlike make-work programs, the need for emergency responders is real. With the word austerity seemingly on everyone’s lips, this is one government program that seems to have a good chance of success. It helps both veterans in need of a job and civilians in need of protection.
We do urge the city to take a long-range view of the program, and consider how it will respond when the grant money for salaries and benefits expires in three years. More than a few jobs have been created out of grant money, only to be cemented into local budgets that are responsible for paying salaries and benefits in the out years, whether they are affordable or not.
Perhaps these new positions would best be assimilated into the force through eventual retirements of current officers, so salary and budget expenses would remain constant once the grant expires.
But if the city handles the grant realistically, it appears to serve everyone well. If only all government programs were this well-planned.