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St. Petersburg wants $2M in stimulus funds to hire more police officers

ST. PETERSBURG — Residents clamoring for more police officers on neighborhood streets could soon get their way.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon has applied for a $2 million federal grant that would pay for 10 police officers and fund a full-time community policing program.

The three-year grant, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, would save five police positions that are slated to be eliminated because of budget cuts. The city would then add five officers to the department's work force, bringing the total of St. Petersburg police officers to 545.

"I'm optimistic we will get the funding," Harmon said. "For a city our size, we are only asking for 10 positions, which is very reasonable."

The city faces stiff competition.

More than 5,600 communities nationwide applied as of early Tuesday, including 167 Florida municipalities requesting funding for 1,400 officers. Up to $1 billion in federal stimulus money is available. The deadline to apply was Tuesday night.

Officials said the grant dollars will be doled out according to need.

"We will be paying attention to the local economy, what's the economic situation for the agencies that are applying, do they have hiring freezes, are there layoffs, big reductions in revenues," said Corey Ray, a spokesman for the federal Justice Department. "We will also look at crime rates and agencies that have a strong retention plan."

St. Petersburg's request seems reasonable, Ray said. On average, local governments asked for funding to pay for five officers.

The city will find out if it will get the funding by September.

Harmon said the officers would be used to expand the Community Police and Engagement project, which was created in May 2008 as a temporary summer program to allow officers to build relationships with three neighborhoods plagued with gun violence: Childs Park, Palmetto Park and Harbordale.

The department recently relaunched the program, this time targeting Grand Central, Bartlett Park and Historic Kenwood. Officers recently went door to door in those neighborhoods, introducing themselves and urging residents to report crime.

The grant money would allow the program to run year-round, Harmon said.

The grant requires the city to retain its new hires for at least one year beyond the conclusion of the three-year grant period. That will cost $710,000.

Harmon said he will likely set aside some money in each annual budget preceding the fourth year to help comply with the grant even if the economy does not rebound.

St. Petersburg wants $2M in stimulus funds to hire more police officers 04/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 11:47pm]

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