By Erin Delmore
Thanks to an infusion of federal grant money, New Jersey police are increasing their ranks in Camden, East Orange, Essex County and Wildwood.
Lawmakers called the $5.1 million transformational. The money is coming from the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing.
“This is the type of program we need to keep and enhance,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.
The grant money pays for 75 percent of officers’ salaries and benefits for three years. Camden got the most money — $2.1 million — that’ll fund 15 full-time officer positions. East Orange is using its $1.5 million to hire 12 school resource officers, up from four. A decade ago they had 34. Wildwood is hiring six officers with its $750,000 share. Same in Essex County, they’ll be tasked with providing safety corridors for students.
“So they can go to and from school without looking over their shoulders, go back home without looking over their shoulders and be safe in the environment while they’re in school,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.
Hiring grants were awarded to departments that emphasize community policing. Camden’s efforts have been praised by both President Obama and Gov. Chris Christie. Additional consideration was given to departments focusing on building trust in the community, combating homicide and gun violence, and bolstering homeland security.
“We are a tier one target for terrorists,” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr.
Cut a couple more slices of the federal pie — $2 million to the Essex County Prosecutor’s office, Jersey City, and the state Department of Law and Public Safety, for anti-gang initiatives. And another $103,000 to the state Department of Law and Public Safety to fight opioid abuse. The DOJ awarded $6 million nationally toward anti-gang and anti-heroin funding nationally and $107 million toward hiring. Menendez says that’s just a start.
“In the past years we’ve seen almost three times the number of communities apply who need almost five times the amount of funding we presently provide,” said Menendez.
Menendez pledged to keep the cops hiring grant from being zeroed out during budget negotiations this week. The 2015 fiscal year sundowns on Wednesday. Congress is charged with adopting a 2016 budget by Oct. 1.
“I’m just not going to let a budget move forward that undermines these particular types of programs,” said Menendez.
East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor and Fontoura say they’re ready to put the grant money to use. They’re hoping to hire by January, then new recruits will undergo a background check and spend four to six months training at the police academy. County leaders plan to have new officers on the streets and in the schools by July.