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City would have to fund some of new police officer salaries not covered by federal grant

Police chief says it's a good deal

July 10, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Five new Hagerstown police officers could be on patrol by next summer thanks in part to a $625,000 federal grant issued to the city last month, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said Tuesday.

The hiring grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), requires that new officers be post-9/11 military veterans and covers three years of salaries and benefits, Smith told the Hagerstown City Council during a work session at City Hall.

However, the city still would be on the hook for a portion of costs created by hiring new officers, Smith said.

If the hires are approved by the five-member council, the grant would cover $41,666 per officer annually each of the three years, but a full-time entry level officer makes, on average, $51,000 including benefits provided by the city, such as pension costs and health insurance, Smith said.

“The city’s responsible for the remainder of the costs,” he said. “And depending on how many pay raises and/or cost-of-living increases, there is no way to determine the exact amount the city’s going to wind up paying, but it will be a minimum of about $9,000 per officer per year, plus training costs.”

Smith told the council the city also would have to pay the salary and benefits of the five officers over a 12-month retention period at the end of the three years of federal funding. He estimated the city’s total cost over the four-year period could be as much as $370,000, depending on additional salary or benefit increases.

The police department currently has seven unfunded positions that were eliminated through attrition, Smith said.

“We’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better scenario for the city taxpayers,” he said. “This will allow us to fill five of those seven vacancies, and the federal government will pay the majority of those costs for three years.”

The city council was in favor of accepting and implementing the grant. A formal vote is expected at the council’s regular session meeting July 24.

If the city were to face the situation of needing to cut additional expenses from future budgets, the jobs of the new officers would be safe through four years, Smith said. He added that city officials likely would leave positions vacated by retirees open rather than lay off other officers.

With a measure of approval from the council, Smith said the police department can begin searching and evaluating candidates to join the force.

Smith said he’s had about a dozen veterans in search of work inquire about the new jobs, but was waiting for an OK from the council to begin formally advertising the positions.

Once candidates are selected, they would enroll in a nearby police academy, likely in early 2013, Smith said. The academy lasts about six or seven months before the new cadet can start 16 weeks of field training with the department, he said.

“But they start helping us when they hit field training,” Smith said, “so sometime next summer I would guess we’ll see the extra (officers) hit the street.”

Hagerstown was the only Maryland city to receive a grant through the COPS 2012 Hiring Program, Smith said. Grants are based on fiscal need and local crime rates, as well as specific problems, such as increased homicide rates and gun violence.

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