COPS payments handcuff some cities, counties now

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 29, 2001

If area officials are feeling a little federal tug on the countycoffers, they may have good reason.

Like Copiah County earlier, Lawrence County is searching forways now to meet the requirements of a federal program that helpedfurnish three sheriff’s deputies for the county three years ago.Under the COPS grant program, local entities get federal funds tohire additional law enforcement for three years, with the county orcity required to retain and pay for the additional manpower for atleast one more year after that.

Essentially, if an agency were to get four new officers, thefederal government pays for three of them and local government paysfor one. It’s a three-for-one deal sounds great — until it’s timeto pay for the county to pay for the fourth year.

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In the fourth year — and in future years if the new officersare kept longer — the county foots the full bill. It’s a bill somecounties have trouble paying.

But what to do?

Cut loose trained officers who know the “lay of the land”?

Bite the bullet and pay for the officers, to the possibledetriment of some other personnel or agency?

Lincoln County has been fortunate with its two COPS grants. Thecounty has been able to absorb the costs of four new deputies hiredabout five years ago with the first grant, and the sheriff’sdepartment is in the federally-funded portion of a second grant forfour more deputies.

Local officials can’t be faulted for wanting to boost their lawenforcement efforts. But the COPS program, as some counties are nowfinding out, may be a dangling carrot that’s too big toswallow.