Stimulus Grants Provide Police Back Up
By Jennifer Loren, The Oklahoma Impact Team
TULSA, Oklahoma -- In Oklahoma City, Gene Sanders works a part-time job as a police ambassador. Ambassadors are ordinary citizens hired to relieve police officers of some light duties, like giving directions or working special events downtown.
"They don't make arrests. They don't enforce any type of city ordinance or anything like that," said Oklahoma City Police Sergeant David Baxter.
Each part-time ambassador makes about $9 an hour. For Sanders, having this job means having spending money.
"It's good for my grandchildren. I spend most of it on them," Sanders said.
Sergeant Baxter said he believes ambassadors play an important role for Oklahoma City's Police Department.
"They do provide what I believe is a vital service. They do help the police departments and officers out on the streets," Baxter said.
In fact, Oklahoma City's Police Department used part of a stimulus grant to hire more ambassadors this year. The Byrne Grant is $2.6 million. OKCPD is using it to hire part-time ambassadors, some part-time employees at the sex offender registry and to pay overtime for traffic enforcement and gang reduction units.
They used another, $1.3 million stimulus grant, the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Grant, to hire seven new full-time police officers. Five of them will work with schools on the truancy program and two will work on the Family Awareness Community Team or FACT program.
But in Tulsa, the police department is firing, not hiring officers. Budget cuts forced the lay-offs of 124 officers last Friday.
"There probably hasn't been a layoff in this department since the depression, so no one ever anticipated that happening," said Tulsa Deputy Police Chief Daryl Webster.
The layoffs came after failed negotiations between the Fraternal Order of Police and the Tulsa mayor. Stimulus money briefly came in to play during the negotiations. Tulsa Police also received a Byrne Grant for $2.7 million. TPD hoped to repurpose $2.5 million of the grant to save some jobs.
"But $2.5 million will go quite a ways," Webster said.
The FOP voted against the last-minute deal to save jobs. Now, the grant will likely be used to fund crime prevention programs.
But the situation could have been even worse. Another stimulus grant, the $3.5 million COPS grant, did save jobs last year. Eighteen Tulsa police officers were laid off and then re-hired with that money.
"And they are back on the payroll being paid through the COPS Grant and will for the next three years," Webster said.
Administrators said having the federal stimulus money to fall back on has been a blessing.
"Oh certainly it's a blessing. You're talking about almost an entire shift of officers in one of our divisions," Webster said.
But in Oklahoma City, budget cuts are looming. As the police department looks to cut 12 percent of its budget, some fear the ambassador program could be on the chopping block.
"I would think that more than likely, if somebody were going to be cut, they would probably go before the police officers would just because of the public safety aspect," Baxter said.
And, according Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty, he is looking to re-allocate stimulus funds, if and only if, the police department is forced into layoffs. Before any of the money could be re-allocated the justice department would have to approve it.