Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stimulus money will help fight crime

Metro police, others are deciding how funds will be spentBy Kate Howard • THE TENNESSEAN • March 12, 2009 Though Metro law enforcement will get nearly $4 million in economic stimulus money, it's unclear whether that money will create — or save — any Metro jobs. The city has asked every department to cut their proposed budgets by 10 percent in a tight fiscal year, and when Metro police submitted its proposal, it said the cuts would mean more than 200 officers taken off the streets. The money is part of more than $50.3 million allocated to Tennessee policing agencies, distributed through the federal Economic Recovery Act. Rutherford County policing agencies will get more than $500,000, and according to Murfreesboro police spokesman Kyle Evans, the exact split between the county's four agencies or use for the money hasn't been determined yet. Agencies in Wilson County, Sumner County and Williamson County will all also get some funding through the grant. Janet Parham wants to see Nashville's money put directly into her North Nashville neighborhood. She is a member of the North Nashville Organization for Community Improvement, and she says police presence on her street is dismal. "I would love to see more cars, and bike or walking patrols as well," Parham said. "When the community gets to know the officers, I think that's huge." Her neighborhood has struggled with burglaries and robberies for years, Parham said. Now, with the economic downturn, they're also struggling with more vacant houses. Parham says police should take the windfall and lease a vacant house in the neighborhood to create a police bureau where people can report crime and get to know officers. Last year, according to Metro police spokesman Don Aaron, the department got about $270,000 in federal money to share with other justice agencies, including the Davidson County Sheriff's Office, the public defender's office and school security. The police department kept about $90,000 last year. "There is no doubt that this money will be a shot in the arm for law enforcement and the justice system in Nashville," Aaron said. "What has to take place in the coming weeks is a deliberate discussion on what specific programs or initiatives this money will support." Family violence is a concern Recessions usually produce higher rates of family violence. That's why Kathy Walsh hopes some of the money gets put into the police department's domestic violence unit. "We've certainly had a few domestic homicides already this year … and the division has suffered from cuts over the years," said Walsh, the executive director of the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "With people losing their jobs, being at home with their partners more, you can certainly see an increase in violence." In Wilson County, Sheriff Terry Ashe said he and officials at the Lebanon city police department have already discussed using their combined $190,000 on fighting their growing gang problem. They have a joint task force that deals with gangs along with the narcotics trade, but Ashe said the violent crimes associated with the gang activity is where he needs the most help. "We're recognizing (our problem) and we're targeting it," Ashe said. "We've got a lot to do here. We're not going to stick our heads in the sand." Multiple uses for grants The grant money can be used for technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and information systems for criminal justice. According to Aaron, it will be some time before Nashville decides how it will spend the $3.8 million designated for Davidson County. Though nothing has been ruled out, Aaron said the federal government usually discourages local agencies from using the money to fund new jobs, since the money may not be there the next year.

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