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How will police grants be impacted in 2021?

Grant applicants must identify, understand and objectively address contemporary political, social and financial issues in the grant application process

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Demands for improvements in de-escalation training and tactics for law enforcement may lead to increased grant funding to achieve that objective.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Attempting to project future police grant funding opportunities with any degree of legitimate accuracy can be a problematic venture, particularly in the current social, political and financial environments.

We can study the history of police grant funding, but to extrapolate future trends from that history, even if it is recent history, is at best speculation.

More importantly, we have to look ahead to be better prepared for future grant applications.

Complex issues impacting current grant funding

Historically, federal and state grant funding has focused on providing financial assistance for both personnel staffing and equipment issues. The federal and state grant funding has been flexible in addressing those issues. Private resource grant funding from corporate entities such as Walmart, Target and Firehouse Subs has traditionally been more focused on responding to equipment requests rather than personnel staffing.

But this is the 2020/2021 grant funding cycle in the aftermath of a significant presidential election, a national pandemic with economic ramifications, and a summer highlighted by major social and criminal justice reform movements and demands. This is a whole different political, social and financial environment injecting many more complex issues into the grant-funding process that will undeniably have major implications.

Some of those issues are within the reasonable control of grant applicants in how they research and develop their grant applications. Other issues are subject to external influences that are beyond the control of grant applicants but remain issues that clearly must be proactively addressed by grant applicants. It is critical that grant applicants identify, understand and objectively address contemporary political, social and financial issues in the grant application process.

Tailor grant applications to new realities

President-elect Joe Biden was a primary architect of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, legislation that has alternately been identified as the 1994 Crime Bill and most specifically as the Biden Crime Bill. For better or worse, for many years the Biden Crime Bill shaped the criminal justice environment and significantly influenced the focus of federal and state criminal justice grant funding.

However, during the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden’s close alignment with the 1994 Crime Bill became more a political liability than a political strength. Whether Biden remains committed to the precepts of the 1994 Crime Bill is debatable. What is not debatable is the fact that police agencies seeking grants in the contemporary political and social climate must be prepared to tailor their grant applications to the realities now imposed on law enforcement.

Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice

Juxtaposed to President-elect Biden’s prior close alignment with the 1994 Crime Bill is the current Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice, one of the pillars of his campaign declaration to aggressively pursue reform in the criminal justice system. Biden’s campaign literature outlines comprehensive and ambitious changes in the criminal justice system that would be implemented by the Plan, changes that would likely be the focus of considerable partisan political discussion and negotiation in Congress.

Under the Plan, states, counties and cities would receive funding to invest in efforts to reduce crime and incarceration, including efforts to address factors such as illiteracy and child abuse that have been associated with incarceration. But, in order to receive the funding, the recipients would have to commit to eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, institute earned credit programs and take other measures to reduce incarceration, while at the same time ensuring that public safety is not negatively impacted.

The Plan proposes a significant increase in grant funding through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The grant funding would have to be used for specific purposes such as providing juveniles with legal representation and helping them seal and expunge criminal records. In exchange for accepting the grant funding, states would be required to prohibit juveniles from being incarcerated in facilities where they may interact with adults and to address what is described in the Plan as the disproportionate representation of juveniles of color in the juvenile justice system. In fiscal year 2019, Congress only appropriated $60 million of the annual authorized $176 million under the Act. Biden has proposed not only fully funding the Act, but expanding the funding to $1 billion per year.

Another of the Plan’s proposals in the arena of juvenile justice involves supporting community-based alternatives to incarceration such as mentorship, counseling and jobs. Grant funding would be offered to encourage states to place non-violent juveniles in community-based alternatives to incarceration and to re-purpose empty prisons so they cannot be used in the future for detention. Initial grant funding would be $100 million in pilot programs in 15-30 states and counties, with the caveat that grant recipients would be required to facilitate collaboration between juveniles and impacted communities to develop plans to reduce juvenile incarceration.

Finally, Biden’s Plan includes a $300 million investment in the COPS program to fund hiring additional police officers and for training on community policing. As a condition of the grant funding, police agencies would have to commit to hiring police officers that reflect the diversity of their communities.

The pandemic effect

The Biden Plan provides some specific insight into grant funding proposals that may be forthcoming. There are additional factors that should be considered in a more general assessment of the future of grant funding. The movement to defund the police may not gain much popular traction, but what may accomplish the same objective is a movement to provide increased financial support through grant funding for businesses and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. State and federal funds that might routinely be routed to law enforcement grant funding could be diverted to pandemic-related problems, at least in the immediate future. The net result could be less available grant funding for law enforcement and a far more competitive grant application process.

Funding for “reform” objectives

The situation may not be completely bleak. Criminal justice reform, which is open to a wide range of sometimes subjective definitions, has some level of bipartisan support at the federal level, albeit perhaps not universal support of the Biden Plan proposals. That may translate into grant-funding opportunities for organizations that can demonstrate creativity in offering “reform” concepts in their grant applications. In response to the movement to demand improvements in de-escalation training and tactics for law enforcement, there may be a concomitant willingness to provide increased grant funding to achieve that objective.

A re-assessment of how or when law enforcement should respond to mental health crises may spawn a similar increase in grant funding to achieve that objective. Establishing partnerships with mental health professionals to respond to mental health crises in the field seems to be gaining momentum and may open new grant funding opportunities from some non-traditional resources.

A word of caution: Be prepared for unfunded governmental mandates regarding de-escalation and mental health crisis responses. Be prepared for those potential mandates by aggressively seeking innovative or unconventional grant funds or grant-funded partnerships.

Confront uncertainty

Grant funding for law enforcement may have been relatively consistent in the past, even taken as routine or assured. But we are now entering a period of uncertainty regarding law enforcement grant funding created by a pandemic that has strained the national economy and a rapidly evolving social and political environment that continues to impose more and more demands on law enforcement. We can successfully confront that uncertainty by working to become more creative ourselves in seeking grant-funding resources and by seriously considering forming partnerships with other organizations outside the law enforcement world to effectively collaborate in seeking grant funds.

The team at PoliceGrantsHelp is always ready to help. Our grant assistance program includes a number of options including grant research, grant writing and grant application review.