Despite crippling budget constraints, the Richmond City Council is considering a proposal to hire five new police officers at a discounted rate over their first three years in the department, in order to capitalize on a federal grant and also to address a recent increase in violence and property crimes.
The federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice would provide the Richmond Police Department with $625,000 toward hiring five new patrol officers. The catch, however, is the grant will only partially pay for the officers, leaving Richmond to pay the remaining $2.1 million in their salary and benefits over the three-year period, according to city documents.
Also, as part of accepting the grant, Richmond will have to pay in full for the five officers for at least a fourth year.
On Tuesday, the council put off a decision until the March 1 meeting on whether to accept the grant and begin training the new cops. Councilmembers Jovanka Beckles and Jael Myrick expressed concern over whether the cash-strapped city can afford partially funding five new officers. Richmond faces a $22.7 million budget deficit by 2021, and Mayor Tom Butt has targeted savings of $8.7 million this year.
Interim Police Chief Allwyn Brown says at least some of the city’s cost to hire the new officers will be offset by reductions in police overtime. The department, which has seen its staff reduced from 195 in the 2011-12 year to 183 currently, has also seen its overtime costs soar, City Manager Bill Lindsay said. Brown has been ordered by council to return to the March 1 meeting with estimates on how much the five officers will save the department in overtime.
Both Lindsay and Mayor Butt expressed support for the grant opportunity, calling the $625,000 from the federal government “free money” to help a police department that has been struggling to address increasing crime.
“[Our numbers of officers’] are going down, and the crime is going up,” Mayor Butt said.
Last year, Butt said, the public’s number one complaint was shoddy roads. Currently, he says, surveys show crime is the public’s top concern. The mayor noted a noticeable increase in property crimes, and added the number of homicides nearly doubled last year.
To receive the grant, Richmond council will have to vote in favor of accepting it by the end of June, or before the start of next fiscal year.
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