The Richmond City Council has approved hiring five new police officers with assistance from a federal grant, despite concern among some members and residents over whether the cash-strapped city can afford them.
The federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice would provide $625,000 toward hiring five new officers to help patrol the city’s streets over a three-year period. That leaves Richmond to pay about $3.3 million for the officers over those three years, according to city documents. In accepting the federal grant, the city also must commit to paying in full for those five officers for at least a fourth year.
The new hires will increase the Police Department’s staff level to 189.5 officers, which remains six fewer than during the 2011-12 fiscal year. The increased staffing would help reduce RPD’s burgeoning overtime costs to the point that the city might actually save money with five additional patrol cops, according to Interm Police Chief Allwyn Brown.
Brown projected the new hires would allow staffing flexibility to reduce overtime by $2.8 million over three years. After adding the $625,00 federal grant to those overtime savings, the five officers could essentially reduce the city’s costs for policing over the three-year grant period, Brown said.
City Manager Bill Lindsay supported the chief’s push for the grant, adding that the overtime budget would be monitored during the course of the grant period to ensure savings are being achieved.
The grant received near unanimous approval on council, with Vice Mayor Eduardo Martinez abstaining. Some councilmembers voted with trepidation, fearing the savings figures might not pan out. Richmond is facing a $22.7 million budget deficit by 2021, with Mayor Tom Butt targeting savings of $8.7 million this year.
With cuts to city departments imminent, Councilmember Jovanka Beckles warned any extra money going to the police department will be taken away from other city departments.
But two reasons convinced most dissenting councilmembers to approve the grant: the potential for OT savings, along with the knowledge that the city can formally ask the Department of Justice to reduce the grant program in the event of financial hardship.
About half of the new hires will be brand new police officers who will need about a year of training before becoming patrol officers, while others will be lateral hires, Brown said.
“It’s cheaper for us to do this than not to do this,” Mayor Butt said, adding that a recent increase in both violent and property crimes has become a top concern among residents.