BANGOR, Maine — Barring any mind changing, the city’s police department will soon add four new police officers under a federal grant program.
Members of the City Council’s government operations committee voted unanimously Tuesday to accept an estimated $740,000 in grant funding under the Community Oriented Police Service, or COPS, hiring recovery program.
The program pays for salaries and benefits of new officers for three years but requires the city to pick up expenses in the fourth year. Once the four years are completed, the department can either eliminate the positions or keep them at its own expense.
Tuesday’s decision still needs approval from the full City Council, but since five members already have voted in favor of the grant and there are only nine councilors, it’s likely to pass.
Councilor Peter D’Errico said he understands the risk of committing to additional budget expenditures four years from now, but he also said sometimes it’s the council’s responsibility to take risks. Councilor David Nealley agreed that a strong case was made to add these positions.
Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick, who did not support the idea previously, changed his mind Tuesday, but strongly urged the city to begin putting aside money to pay for that fourth year. Four officers will cost the city approximately $320,000 in the 2013 budget, according to the finance director.
Police Chief Ron Gastia said he plans to add two officers to the department’s special enforcement team, which is used in dangerous situations such as armed standoffs, apprehending potentially violent suspects or serving high-risk warrants.
Another would take the role of school resource officer and the fourth would be assigned as a community relations officer. But the chief said the more important change is that he won’t have to keep stealing from the patrol division to fill those needs.
One point of contention during Tuesday’s discussion was whether the federal funding could be used for attrition, which it cannot. Gastia has said that in the next four years, as many as 26 officers will be eligible for retirement. Under the COPS program, however, the city would have to keep the same level of personnel through the length of the grant program. That means when the police department adds four positions and raises its staffing level from 79 to 83, it must keep 83 officers for at least four years.