Oklahoma City And Tulsa Plan to Hire Cops With Stimulus Money
TULSA, Oklahoma -- Some Oklahoma police departments are hoping to beef up their forces by using tax money from President Obama's stimulus package. But, the money has stirred up a controversy in one police department as city councilors question the use of temporary money to staff permanent positions.
The Tulsa Police Department was awarded $3.5 million from the Community Oriented Policing, or COPS, grant. The money would pay the salaries and benefits of 18 new officers.
"The money doesn't come around too often," said Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer.
Palmer said he actually needs 67 more officers. That's the number recommended to him after a MGT manpower study was conducted in 2008.
In fact, Chief Palmer and the City of Tulsa originally applied for $13 million in COPS grant money to hire 67 more officers. But, the city was only awarded enough to hire 18 officers. Now Palmer is urging the city council to accept that $3.5 million.
"It is truly a golden opportunity," said Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer. "It just doesn't come around every day."
But, every day Tulsa cops are battling a rising crime rate.
"I think any amount of officers more would help out," said Officer Aaron McPherson. "Like in the armed robbery situation we just had we would have had two or three more officers out looking for this truck."
McPherson believes having more officers on the streets would help solve more crimes, and Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor agrees.
"Having any additional officer on the street is vitally important," said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.
Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor has been working to get Tulsa its share of stimulus cash.
"This is really our money. It's taxpayers' money," said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor. "And Tulsa, which doesn't happen often, is getting it back to provide officers for three years."
But, some Tulsa city councilors don't want to accept the COPS grant because of year four, when the stimulus money is gone. Tulsa taxpayers will be responsible for paying those officers' salaries and benefits each year beginning in the city's fiscal year 2014. According to Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor the city would need to budget $1.3 million annually.
In a COPS grant information sheet, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor prepared for the Tulsa City Council Economic Development Committee it says: "If the past is prologue, the City should be able to afford these additional officers in four years."
It goes on to say the city could pay for the officers if the city has a sales tax growth rate of .5% in 2013 and 2014.
But, Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson says that's a risk the city should not take. Martinson says he plans to vote against accepting the grant. He points to the City of Tulsa's current budget problems and the furloughs their police officers are already being forced to take.
"It's not free money," said Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson. "I mean we're talking about a significant investment that the citizens of Tulsa are going to have to make to receive this money."
Martinson believes the police department already has enough money and wants more prudent spending of the money the department already has.
"We're spending $35 million more a year on police and fire than what we did 10 years ago and we haven't hired one additional officer. That means that all that money is going into payroll and benefits for the existing officers that we have. Nobody's going to be able to convince me that there aren't some efficiencies that they can milk out of a system," said Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson.
Martinson's claim is not completely accurate. TPD's budget has grown significantly in the last 10 years, but they have hired more officers. The department's 2009 personnel budget is about $23 million more than in 1999 and there are 14 more officers on the payroll. But, police officers salaries and benefits cost the city 67% more today than 10 years ago.
Still, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor says the stimulus is the answer.
"I think when we can get our dollars back from the federal government we should take advantage of it," said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.
The Oklahoma City Police Department was awarded a COPS grant as well.
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty applied for $1.3 million to hire seven new officers and was awarded the entire amount. He says the grant will cost Oklahoma City just over $1 million per year after the grant money runs out in year three.
Citty says the pre-application for the COPS grant was approved unanimously by the Oklahoma City City Council and he does not expect any controversy with the final vote.
When asked about Tulsa's situation he said the two cities are in very different economic situations. Citty said he would love to have asked for 50 or 60 officers. But, he didn't because it would have been too risky.
"I mean you just don't know for sure what the economy's going to be like four years from now. But, that's one of the reasons we really limited it to only seven positions, to keep the numbers down," said Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty.