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Date last updated: Friday, June 3, 9:16 PST

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NJ police departments seek grants to hire officers

By Hannan Adely
Passaic Herald News

Law enforcement agencies across New Jersey are seeking to bolster their ranks and tackle crime problems with help from a federal grant intended for hiring and retaining police.

In all, 157 law enforcement agencies across the state had applied for grants from the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Hiring Program by the deadline Wednesday night. New Jersey had the fourth-largest request among states -- seeking a combined $150.6 million for the hire of 568 officers -- following California, Florida and Texas.

"The funding is to hire officers whose time will be applied to solving specific community crime and disorder problems," said Gilbert Moore, a spokesman for the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Many local police departments, which have seen their ranks dwindle due to retirements and budget cuts, have applied. Applicants include the Saddle Brook Police Department, which saw the number of officers drop from 34 to 28 over three years, said Chief Robert Kugler.

"Departments across the state are getting decimated by people retiring, and with the economic climate, government bodies are resistant to hire so fast," Kugler said.

The department requested one officer, who Kugler said would be used to support community policing and investigations.

In Fair Lawn, Police Chief Erik Rose said new officers were needed after retirements and layoffs left the department with 54 officers, down from 64 a year ago. The force expects two more hires soon, and hopes the grant will fund three more.

"Our hopes would be to replace some of the officers that we lost," Rose said.

The grant provides funding for the entry-level salaries and benefits of newly hired or rehired police officers for three years. Grant recipients also will have access to consultants who can help agencies address crime problems. In exchange, the grant recipient must agree to keep the police officer on staff for a fourth year.

The grant application was changed this year: Applicants were asked to identify specific crime problems and indicate how the new officers would be used as part of a plan to address that problem. The change was made to "get the most out of its funds" and have the greatest impact, Moore said.

In West Milford, for instance, police indicated they needed two new officers for drug and bullying prevention in schools and to fight burglaries.

In basing awards on information about how the officers will be used, crime data and fiscal health indicators, Program Manager Barry Bratburd said, "It really comes down to how well they painted a picture of need to us."

But competition is tough. The Department of Justice has $256 million to distribute in COPS grants across the country; it has received a total 2,708 applications requesting about $2 billion in grant funding.

In 2010, when the department had $298 million to spend, it was able to fund just 9 percent of grant applications. In that year, New Jersey got close to $8 million for the hiring of 36 officers in six jurisdictions.

Grant recipients will be announced by late September.

Teaneck Police Chief Robert Wilson, for one, knows competition will be keen. He has 86 officers, and five more in training at the police academy; that's down from 101 in 2008.

As in other departments in the same predicament, Wilson said he needs more officers to dedicate to proactive policing.

"We don't have the luxury of having people targeting community problems," he said.

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