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Norwich to decide whether to accept $2 million grant to hire police

Norwich — The city police department has been approved for a $2 million federal grant that could boost patrols in urban neighborhoods and help police get back in touch with city youth, but only if city officials agree to accept the money and provide the 25% required matching share.

Police Chief Patrick Daley told the City Council Public Safety Committee on Wednesday that the department’s application for a federal Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grant has been approved. The grant would fund six additional full-time police officers over a three-year period but would require a 25% city match, or $517,301 of the total $2,069,204 grant.

If the city accepts the grant, Daley would propose adding three new officers to the six officers in the community policing patrols in Greeneville, Taftville and downtown. The new officers would be for evening walking or bicycle patrols. A fourth officer would be assigned to daytime patrols in the targeted neighborhoods.

Three officers would be assigned to a renewed effort to reach city youth in public schools, Daley said, to fill a gap the chief and other Norwich officers have expressed in the wake of recent protests and demonstrations against police violence. Norwich ended its DARE drug awareness and prevention program several years ago, and the school system dropped school resource officers in the city’s two middle schools in budget cuts.

Daley said the result was that police have lost touch with the city’s youth and young adults, including many of the protesters at recent city events.

Daley envisions officers presenting programs in third, fifth and seventh grades during the school day with a curriculum that would include traffic safety, water safety and drowning prevention, bicycle safety, life skills and school safety. There would be some attention to drug use prevention, but it would not be a return of the DARE program. Daley said the department would look at statistics on childhood injuries and address those issues.

Before that plan can go forward, the City Council would have to approve receiving the grant and committing to the local match, which would not be needed until the city hires the officers. The city applied for the grant March 13, just before the coronavirus shutdowns hit the city economy and before the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer that triggered nationwide protests.

Mayor Peter Nystrom said he was unaware of the city’s required matching share and said that would be a challenge in the current budget and with ongoing COVID-19 financial uncertainties. The advantage is that the money would not be needed until the officers are hired, which could take two or three years. Daley said each hire has its own 36-month period covered by the grant, so the costs could be spread out.

“I do agree we need an increased presence for community policing,” Nystrom said. He said he proposed restoring community policing when he was first elected mayor in 2009.

“It’s about setting priorities,” he said. “Nobody wants to make the difficult decisions.”

Alderman Joseph DeLucia, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said he spoke with Daley about the city’s 25% matching share and said the City Council should be made aware of the obligation before accepting the grant.

“How that mechanism happens, that remains to be seen,” DeLucia said.

The city’s matching share is not the only obstacle, Daley said. Recruiting new police officers could be difficult during the nationwide protests against police brutality, allegations of unfair treatment of minorities, and the call to cut police budgets, staffing and school presence rather than enhance them.

Daley said recruitment numbers have dropped sharply in recent months. And the demand for top quality officers just skyrocketed. The U.S. Department of Justice awarded nearly $400 million in COPS grants in June to 596 law enforcement agencies for a total of 2,732 new officers.

Norwich Police Department recently recruited four new officers, who are undergoing training now, Daley said. The COPS grant funding cannot be used for those officers, however, because it cannot supplant existing staffing.

“It’s going to be an issue, finding the right people,” Daley said. “We’ll start immediately, but it’s how quickly you can find people. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s not going to be easy.”


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