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PD stimulus money used for programs


Hiring cops on hold, despite funds available


August 09, 2009
BY RYAN GRANNAN-DOLL

NEWS STAFF WRITER

SOUTHBRIDGE — Police Chief Daniel Charette is using federal stimulus money, which he is allowed to use to hire more police officers, for community policing and juvenile programs.

The decision comes amid controversy over a town subcommittee voting to delay hiring two new officers, and the Town Council hiring just one.

"I think we need other money to do all the other pieces," he said Friday afternoon, in reference to both programs.

Charette's decision comes after receiving money from the federal government. The department has received $48,642 in stimulus grant funding from the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) and is eligible to receive an additional $11,778. Charette said he has applied for the latter amount.

Charette's decision could stir controversy after the Town Council recently voting to hire only one police officer to boost the department's ranks, and the Protection of Persons and Property (PPP) subcommittee's choosing to delay hiring another two because of future financial uncertainties.

Since that decision, three town councilors have advocated hiring all three officers after the department recently lost five. Charette said he has the money in his budget to hire them.

Neither Councilor Catherine Nikolla, who supports hiring the three officers, nor Albert D. Vecchia, the PPP chairman, could be reached for comment Friday. PPP members Conrad Vandal and Richard Logan, who are councilors, could not be reached for comment on Charette's decision.

Charette defended his decision by saying the benefits of continuing the two programs outweigh that of an additional officer. The move is also necessary, he said, because the state cut the community policing money that he typically receives.

"One officer for one year could not possibly replace all of our community policing and juvenile programs," he said. "With zero money coming for our juvenile programs, I feel it is very important to try and continue these programs, at least in part."

Adding to the issue, there appears to be confusion between Charette and the DOJ about how the funds can be used.

"From what I understand, no [the funds can't be used to hire officers]," Charette said.

The $48,642 in federal stimulus funding, which comes from the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG), can be used to hire officers or for drug enforcement, extra patrols and park enforcement, among other purposes, according to DOJ spokesman Susan Oliver.

"How they plan to use is determined by the needs of the jurisdiction," she said. "It can be used for anything to support the criminal justice system."

The $11,778 comes from the same JAG program, but is not from President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus plan, according to Oliver. It is regular annual funding, she said.

When asked if it can be used to hire officers, Oliver said, "I don't see anything that says you can't. Personnel is one of the uses," adding departments can use for it for "whatever they decide."

Allowed uses also include training, technology upgrades, crime research, and crime prevention and education, Oliver said.

After being told of the DOJ's belief, Charette said, "That is the first I heard of it."

Charette also defended his decision of how to use the money, saying when the application was submitted his department was only short one officer.

The issue of whether to hire two additional officers could be moot soon, if Charette gets his way. The Police Department is waiting on a decision for another grant application, through the JAG program but distributed by the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, that would cover the entire salary of two officers for one year, he said. That money, he said, can be used to hire officers.

The EOPSS awards are expected to be announced in October, according to spokesman Terrel Harris.

Another possible funding source for hiring more officers has dried up. The DOJ denied Charette's grant application to the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program for $327,000 that would cover the salaries of two officers. Despite that decision, Charette said he was told the application is "still open" for approval.

Other local departments are receiving a lot of money under the three programs. From the DOJ JAG program, Charlton is receiving $11,445, which Police Chief James A. Pervier said he used to purchase portable radios for his patrolman.

"We were in dire need of the portables," he said.

Pervier said he plans to apply for money from the EOPSS program that would pay for two more officers. He is still awaiting a decision on another application to the COPS program that would pay for two officers for three years.

The Webster Police Department is receiving $496,452 from the COPS program to pay for two officers and $40,236 from the DOJ JAG program.

Several other towns are receiving money from the DOJ JAG program. Dudley is getting $11,087, while Leicester is receiving $13,054. Oxford is getting $23,963, and Spencer will receive $20,923. Sturbridge will get $11,266, while Auburn is receiving $67,597.

Sturbridge Police Detective Mark Saloio had no information to provide about the money last week.

Gov. Deval Patrick's office announced the funding last week. Statewide, 118 cops have been laid off in 11 communities, according to the governor's office.

Ryan Grannan-Doll may be reached at (508) 909-4050, or by e-mail at rgrand@stonebridgepress.com.

Editor's Note: Pick up Monday's Southbridge Evening News for this story and more!

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