In the wake of a crime wave that claimed the lives of four people and injured 13 others over less than 48 hours this weekend, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at City Hall with Mayor Michael Nutter and other officials to announce a federal grant that will put more officers on the street.
"It is especially fitting to speak of liberty here in Philadelphia, which – to help build on this city’s model community policing efforts – will be receiving more than $3 million to hire 25 military veterans to serve as law enforcement officers," Holder said.
Congressman Bob Brady said the money could help prevent outbreaks
of intense violence like that seen over the weekend. "Any time we can
give the commissioner more manpower to put on the street, whether it's
more beat power, more manpower, more equipment – it's got to help," he
said. "It's a deterrent."
He further illustrated the importance of law enforcement services by recounting the quick police response to an attempted break-in at his home two weeks ago:
Officers financed by the grant – which will subsidize 75 percent of their income for three years – are required to have a minimum of 180 days' military service since Sept. 11, 2001.
"When I came on the job, probably 96 percent of people who were on were veterans," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. "Now that's changed – not that that's a bad thing – but just having the discipline of the military is very helpful. … They are committed to serve. Otherwise, they wouldn't have enlisted."
The grant issued through the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services is part of $111 million allotted for new officer hiring in 222 cities and counties nationwide. Among them, Philadelphia – along with Los Angeles and Chicago – was given the resources to hire the most new officers.
"Both fiscal need and fiscal responsibility factor into the selection of grantees, along with local crime rates, and most importantly is cities' strategic community policing strategy for lowing those crime rates," said program director Bernard Melekian. "It's not just about delivering the money, it's about providing valuable resources to agencies with legitimate needs and doable strategies."
Holder emphasized the importance of vision and leadership in the decision to award funds to Philadelphia:
"The reason these cities were chosen is because they were the ones who had the best plans," Holder said. "… It is with a great deal of pride that I conclude my prepared remarks by saying this city and its leadership really stands out and it is for that reason that you all received the greatest number of police officers."
Congressman Chaka Fattah noted the COPS program is not without its critics – among them, fellow members of Congress:
"This is a program that's had a lot of controversy, made-up controversy from others in the Congress who say that we shouldn't be involved as a federal government in local police enhancements, that this somehow is a local responsibility," he said.
"Well, I didn't hear any of them saying this when we spent billions on training and hiring police in Iraq over the last decade and it was fine to use federal tax dollars for that. I think it's even more appropriate to help mayors like Mayor Nutter and others similarly situated across our country."
The infusion of manpower comes on top of the 400 new hires Nutter already included in the budget he rolled out in March. His goal is to maintain 6,500 officers over the next five years, an increase from the current force of about 6,300.
It also comes at a time when violent crime is spiking, with the homicide rate higher than it's been since Nutter took office four years ago.
"We're at a point where we'll take whatever we can get," Ramsey said. He said the money is coming at a critical time for his officers, who know "how desperately we need this infusion of resources. I don't have to tell them that," he said. "They've been up against it for a period of time now and relief is coming – it's on the way."'