WASHINGTON – Federal money for community policing in Maryland bought video cameras for patrol cars, computers that can instantly e-mail from car to car and software that speeds report writing back at the office.
What it didn’t buy was the 2,643 officers that police departments across the state claim they are putting on the street through the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services grants.
Maryland police departments have actually added just 1,516 positions to the payroll with the more than $165 million in COPS grants they received from 1993 to last month, according to a Capital News Service analysis of Justice Department data.
The other 1,127 officers are cops on paper alone — they were full-time “equivalents,” cobbled together from 15 minutes saved here and there with new technology, or moved to the street when a civilian was hired to take their place at a desk.
But to area agencies, a new officer and an “equivalent” are the same thing where crime-fighting is concerned.
Ocean City Police Lt. William Galten said the technology his department bought with COPS money added the equivalent of 6.6 full-time officers on his streets.
“It’s probably better than 6.6,” he said. “I can tell you that the mobile data terminals unequivocally increased the production of the police officers on the street.”
National Fraternal Order of Police Executive Director Jim Pasco said it was “fine with us” if some COPS money went to move already-hired officers back on the street instead of hiring new ones.
“If in fact the goal is to get officers on the street to enhance public safety . . . I think the end is achieved,” Pasco said.
COPS was pushed by President Clinton, who pledged in 1994 to put 100,000 officers in schools and on streets across the country by 2000.
The grants help jurisdictions buy equipment or hire and train new officers or civilians. The program pays 100 percent of the cost of equipment, but it only pays a portion of a new hire’s salary, and then only for three years.
Under COPS, the federal government pays 75 percent of a new officer’s salary and benefits — up to a total of $75,000 — in the first year. It then pays half, then 25 percent of the cost. By the fourth year, local governments have to foot the whole bill.
Police in every Maryland county have received COPS grants, some to hire or train new officers, some to buy things.
Maryland State Police used most of the $2.2 million they have received since 1995 to buy software, computers, video cameras and other equipment that it estimates is the equivalent of putting 203 full-time officers back on the street.
As of last week, there were 1,558 state troopers, 1,200 of whom were assigned to the street.
State Police Sgt. Thornnie Rouse said the department used COPS money to buy 35 computers and an automated records system for the firearm licensing division, which has scanned in all records since 1985. He said the department also spent $396,000 for 96 video cameras for cruisers that patrol Interstate 95.
Justice Department data said the state police hired 11 civilians with COPS money, but Rouse could not confirm the exact number.
Ocean City Police split their COPS money between equipment and hires. The city had a sworn police force of almost 95 officers as of last week.
The department spent $164,808 in 1996 for 40 in-car computers that can be used to check such things as outstanding warrants on a detainee. It also paid for training.
Galten said the computers cut the time to check warrants from five minutes to 15 seconds. In the year after they were installed, he said, the department’s warrant arrests increased 107 percent.
“The mobile data terminal is a good example of leveraging technology against salary,” Galten said. Spending $5,000 on equipment instead of $75,000 on salary was “the philosophy behind the formula” his department used when it applied for the grant.
He said that the equipment not only puts officers back on patrol sooner, but also keeps them safer.
“We don’t know these out-of-towners,” Galten said of the high number of visitors to Ocean City each year. The computers let officers know sooner who it is they are stopping.
Ocean City used $124,948 to hire four police cadets who took over such duties as fingerprinting, mug shots, booking and court appearances, freeing up 2.5 sworn officers from desk duty. The city also received $363,348 from COPS between 1993 and 1996 to hire five new officers.
Like state police, the Maryland-National Capital Park Police only requested money for equipment in order “to make better use of officers’ time,” said Capt. Barry Bratburd. The agency got four COPS grants totaling $1.2 million, according to Justice Department data.
Bratburd said just one of those grants — $451,250 to buy 40 in-car computers — has given the department’s Prince George’s County division the equivalent of 18.1 full-time officers through time savings.
The computers have cut the time for drivers license checks and eliminated the need for in-station roll call and face-to-face meetings, Bratburd said. Officers now use e-mail on the car-mounted laptops to communicate with one another while remaining on patrol.
They also let officers run their own warrant checks with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and the Prince George’s County police and sheriff’s departments, instead of calling back to the station. Bratburd said that cut search time from 10 or 15 minutes down to three to five seconds.
Bratburd challenged the notion that the grants are “free money,” noting that they require a time audit, which the Justice Department can check at any time. He said his department has not finished tracking the time savings to determine if the real result was 18.1 more officers on the street.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has questioned the math that some departments used to calculate the number of officers they gained as a result of an equipment grant. It said in a 1999 report that some departments could not demonstrate that they had redeployed officers, or they had no system in place for tracking officers added.
But COPS spokesman Gilbert Moore noted that the inspector general’s report focused on the departments of most concern to the COPS office, and that those departments were just a fraction of the total number of grant recipients. Moore said that overall, the formulas used by recipients have been “pretty valid.”
Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias said the technology the city has deployed has “expedited service to our citizens.” The equipment is “getting the officers out there and keeping them out” on the street, he said.