OAKLAND — Cities and counties across California will receive nearly $20 million in federal grants to help hire more than 100 new law enforcement officers, officials said Tuesday.
Thirty-nine law enforcement agencies in the state will receive funding through the Community Oriented Policing Services program, also known as COPS. Oakland will get a $4.5 million grant — the largest single amount awarded in the country.
Alameda County was given nearly $2.3 million. California cities awarded at least $1 million include Sacramento, Inglewood, Modesto and Vallejo. About $125 million in COPS grants will be awarded to 263 cities and counties nationwide to be announced later this month, COPS acting director Joshua Ederheimer said.
Oakland leaders said they will use the city’s grant to hire 10 officers over three years. The violence-plagued, cash-strapped port city has cut the size of its police force from about 830 officers in 2009 to slightly more than 600, making it one of the nation’s most understaffed departments.
“These competitive grants are essential to our police force, and this financial support will make a positive impact to make our communities safer,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who lives in Oakland.
The COPS program, slated to get $440 million in the 2014 federal budget, has been fiercely debated in Congress. The House Appropriations Committee recommended that the program get “zeroed out” in a spending bill to fund the Justice Department.
Ederheimer is confident the program will receive appropriate funding.
“There’s universal support in every state,” he said. “I know that in the past the House has not been as supportive, but I think as they get more informed, just as they have done in the past, they do end up supporting local law enforcement.”
Associate U.S. Attorney General Tony West noted that the mass killing on Monday at the Washington Navy Yard served as a tragic reminder of the need for public safety
Oakland received nearly $20 million in COPS grant funding in 2009 and nearly $11 million in 2011 to help fund a total of 66 officers.
Police Chief Sean Whent said the $4.5 million funding this year will help as Oakland has had 69 homicides so far this year compared to 80 during the same period of 2012. The city ended last year with 131 homicides.
“The faster we can grow this Police Department, the better service we can provide, the more crime reduction we’re likely to see,” said Whent, who is hoping for 700 officers by 2015. “Right now, I’d be out here singing the praises if they were giving me two officers.”
Mayor Jean Quan said the grant validated her traveling to Washington to seek funds and solutions to combat violence, including meeting last month with President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.
“When the president of the United States asks you to be a part of a couple of handful of mayors to talk about violence and ways to stop it, when you’re the mayor of Oakland, you don’t say no,” Quan said.