The understaffed Richmond Police Department will soon add five more officers to their ranks, thanks to a vote from City Council on Tuesday to accept a community policing grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The higher staffing levels will help cut expensive overtime costs while beefing up the Department’s ability to take on rising crime rates. A condition for the grant that requires the City to match funds, however, gave pause to councilmembers concerned with the City’s tight finances.
The program from the DOJ gives the city $625,000 in grant funding to hire additional police officers and mandates that the City allows for a little over $2 million in-kind matching funds over three years for the same purpose. The City must also fund a fourth year without funding from DOJ. These two conditions raised a red flag.
The city budget is currently facing an $8.7 million budget shortfall for the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to the city’s five-year fiscal forecast, and the $2 million requirement seemed a hefty price to pay for additional officers.
In the long run, though, the program will end up saving the city money, according to Interim Police Chief Allwyn Brown.
Richmond spent $4.3 million in overtime in the last fiscal year, when employing five full-time officers would have cost just $3.3 million. Between the grant and matching funds from the City, Brown estimates that the program will save the City around $67,000 annually.
The Richmond Police Department currently has an average of 184.5 officers, down from a high of 189.5 in years past. The increase in officers would help the Department respond to the 8,000 to 9,000 calls for service it receives each month.
Still, the program raised concerns for Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, who worried about its implications on other programs.
“I think that if we are going to get the five additional officers, I want to make sure that other services don’t get the short end of the stick,” Beckles said.
The math was simple for Mayor Tom Butt, who balanced the cost of funding officers against the City’s rising crime rate.
The homicide rate nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015, and the City has seen two homicides each month of the year thus far.
“This is not a good trend,” Mayor Butt said. “This is not a good time to stat downsizing the police department. I think we’re making not only the fiscally prudent decision to pass this, I think we’re addressing the highest priority by far for the citizens of Richmond.”
All councilmembers voted to approve the grant except for Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, who abstained. The approval came with the caveat that the DOJ would be asked to waive the in-kind matching funds requirement.