Stimulus cash to help local police departments

Some of the federal stimulus money will be used for the nation's law enforcement agencies, including money that will find its way to Barnwell County.

The White House announced in a March 6 press release about a $2 billion portion of the Recovery Act 2009 that will be allocated to individual police departments through the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Program (JAG).

Of that amount, nearly $38 million will go toward South Carolina agencies.

In Barnwell County, the city of Barnwell Police Department will receive $24,167 and the Barnwell County Sheriff's Office will get $47,726, according to the White House press release.

"You still have to apply for it and tell them you want it," said Barnwell Police Chief Todd Gantt who was working on the grant paperwork during the week of March 9.

"They gave us a very short turnaround time on it," Gantt said of the April 1 deadline.

Gantt said he doesn't know when his department would get the money, which has to course through the appropriate governing bodies.

The money would likely come through the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division on the state level, then be reviewed by Barnwell City Council, he said.

"What I want to use it for - all that has to be approved through the mayor and council. I want to buy equipment to use that will save us more money," Gantt said.

Amounts that each police department receives in JAG grants are based upon a formula involving population and violent crime statistics, according to the White House press release.

Departments can use the money for training, equipment or to ensure current officers are not laid off because of the economy, according to the press release.

Gantt, who has studied some of the particulars of the grant, said the money cannot be used for construction costs, or big ticket specialty items like aircraft or armored cars.

Sheriff Ed Carroll said he is still studying the grant's restrictions but is glad the grant allows departments to pay base salaries of deputies in danger of being laid off.

"The thought of laying one off with crime going up would have a detrimental effect," Carroll said.

"We are going to try and keep people working. When that money comes in, that money will be put on hold until we can see what is going on," he said.

Carroll said he is going to study the best use for the money. He wouldn't want to just buy equipment with the money then see personnel laid off, leaving his department with equipment it doesn't need or can't use for lack of staff.

Grant searching and writing is becoming a familiar task for Gantt to pull in additional money during these tight economic times.

"Getting grants is going to be a big part of my job for a while," he said.

Already Gantt is wrangling for a COPS grant, another federal offering.

The COPS grant had been around since the 1990s but was suspended in 2000. The grant program was reinstated last year. The main premise of it is to allow departments to hire additional officers for up to three years, Gantt said.

However, after the three-year period, the department must agree to keep the officer, he said.

In the past, the COPS grant was funded up to 75 percent by the federal government with the remaining balance picked up by the local government.

However, with the stimulus package, the federal government will now pay the full amount, he said.

"With grants, you have to be very mission-specific. You don't want to start a new program just for the sake of getting a grant when it's going to cost the city more in the long run," Gantt said.

"We are not going to go out and start a mountain rescue unit," he said.