Policeman in front of a car

(The Center Square) Three cities and one county in Iowa will receive federal funding to hire officers through this year’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program.

The goal of the program is to reduce crime and advance public safety by directly supporting community policing through hiring officers. Award selection factors included problem focus area, local crime data and agencies’ commitment to community policing and demonstrated financial need.

The office granted waivers of some or all of applicants’ local cash match based on presence of “severe fiscal distress,” the fact sheet said. The awards provide up to 75% of approved entry-level salaries and fringe benefits of full-time officers for 36 months. Local cash match of 25% is required, as are any salaries and fringe benefits above entry level. The awards must be in addition to – not instead of – local or state funding for hiring officers. After three years of federal funding, recipients have to retain the positions for at least a year within their budget, with state or local funds, in addition to the positions they would have had if they had not received the award.

Union County and the cities of Dysart, Norwalk and Sheldon were each awarded $125,000 grants per officer, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of COPS awards report said. Sheldon, a city of 5,512 at the time of the 2020 Census, will receive three officers while the other agencies each will receive one.

Union County Sheriff Mark Shepherd said the department applied for one COPS grant. Shepherd said that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation for his agency’s “skeleton crew.”

“We have deputies out on leave at this time with COVID and we did [during] the first go-around of COVID,” he said. “We had a deputy retire and we’re trying to train a deputy and our deputy that does our training went down sick. We knew we’d always operated off our shirt sleeve, and we needed to beef up our staff a little bit. With the grant it’s going to enable us to do that. … We won’t run shifts short of people nearly as much.”

He said the agency has also wanted to train a deputy in investigations work to hasten the pace of solving cases and the grant will help that happen.

“A deputy working on a night shift, they can’t turn around and come in on a day shift to do an interview or find [a suspect] at their place of work,” Shepherd said. “With this new grant position, that deputy will work hand-in-hand with the case deputy and do the follow-ups during the day that the case deputy can’t do while working at night.”

Shepherd said that if the agency receives a second grant, it would be able to switch its patrol schedule of 4 days on, 10-hour days shifts that don’t rotate to a “6 on 3 off” schedule or a “5 on 3 off” schedule that would rotate so deputies could receive some weekend time off. He said that would boost morale. He said prospective officers had declined to apply because of the existing schedule requirements.

This year, the office received 590 applications and provided awards to 31% of them, totaling $139 million in awards to 183 law enforcement agencies for 1,066 full-time law enforcement members.

President Joe Biden requested an increase of $300 million for the program for fiscal year 2022, the release said.