WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi is seeking to double the amount of funding for a Justice Department community policing grant program used to hire officers across the U.S.
Brindisi, D-Utica, told The Associated Press he is adding an amendment to a government spending bill that would increase the funding for the COPS Hiring Program to about $800 million. The grant program, administered by the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, distributed more than $350 million to police agencies across the U.S. in 2020.
In addition to funds for hiring, the grants also provide funding for local, state and tribal law enforcement agencies to enhance community policing, in which agencies use relationships with community leaders to establish dialogues about needs and identify residents' concerns.
Brindisi represents the 22nd Congressional District which includes Utica and Binghamton, and said it is "the job of Congress to give cities and towns the tools they need," including helping police departments replace retiring officers as municipal budgets dwindle.
"This is a plan to recruit, hire and train community beat cops," Brindisi said in an interview on Sunday. In 2020, the program awarded 596 grants to hire 2,731 police officers at police departments across the nation, according to Justice Department statistics.
The proposal comes as police departments across the U.S. are facing budget reductions in the coming year, with cities struggling with ballooning costs from the coronavirus pandemic and national calls to reduce police funding in favor of spending more money on social services. Several police agencies have also delayed or canceled police academy classes, which is likely to leave a number of jobs unfilled as other officers retire.
But the grant funding to hire thousands of new officers could allow police departments to focus their resources on strengthening community policing programs, adding additional training for officers and increasing transparency by buying body cameras, Brindisi said.
"This funding will help free up resources to do that," he added.
Still, Brindisi said local governments must also focus investing in social programs.
"We have to invest more in mental health, we have to invest more in education," he said.
Brindisi’s opponent in the upcoming election re-match, Claudia Tenney, released a statement calling his bill a “phony proposal.”
“Anthony Brindisi is desperate to hide his anti-police record from voters – now that polls reveal our communities support our police. Brindisi knows that his ‘defund the police’ allies like AOC and Nancy Pelosi will kill this bill,” said Tenney, who held the congressional seat from 2017-2019. “No matter what Anthony Brindisi says, when it mattered, he voted with the far left and Nancy Pelosi.”