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How to find grants to support tactical gear and other special ops needs

Hundreds of federal, state, corporate and private foundation grant-funding opportunities support specialized law enforcement equipment and gear


Richmond SWAT team members leave a Greyhound bus station Thursday, March 31, 2016 in Richmond, Va.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Police officers are tasked with an extremely challenging job every day to maintain public safety. In order to perform effectively, cops need the right equipment, whether tactical body armor, night vision goggles, unmanned aerial vehicles or ballistic shields. If your department is like most law enforcement agencies across the country, budgets are tight and often shrinking, with m any priorities competing for available dollars.

Grants are a great solution for securing funding for tactical gear and special operations equipment. There are hundreds of federal, state, corporate and private foundation grant-funding opportunities available each year that will consider supporting specialized law enforcement equipment and gear.

Here’s a summary of both the most obvious grants to consider and some not so obvious – each with their own unique requirements.

The Obvious: Justice Assistance Grants and Homeland Security dollars

Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) offer one of the largest sources of grant funding to support law enforcement equipment purchases. Most tactical and special operations equipment and gear are eligible items under this program. But be aware that specialized vehicles and unmanned aerial systems are prohibited expenditures unless you receive an approved waiver from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Many local municipalities across the country receive a local JAG allocation directly from the federal government based on their share of their state’s three-year violent crime average. If your county or city is a local JAG recipient, encourage your grant administrators to earmark a portion of the funding to cover your special operations and tactical equipment needs.

Each state and U.S. territory also receives an annual JAG award for competitive funding that is available to local and state agencies that don’t qualify for the local allocations. Reach out to your State Administering Agency (SAA) representative to discuss your needs and inquire about the next application period.

Homeland Security Grants can be used to fund a variety of specialized gear, equipment and vehicles, as long as you use the equipment to respond to domestic or international terrorism events or other crimes that threaten your community. Most of these federal grants are received through your state’s homeland security or emergency management agency, but decisions on the uses of these funds are based on local planning. Grant applications for equipment that will be used as a regional asset may receive more favorable consideration.

Your agency may also qualify for Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and Port Security Operation Stonegarden depending on where you are located within the United States. Also consider FEMA’s Emergency Management Preparedness Grant (EMPG), which allows for equipment purchases in preparation for an all-hazards emergency preparation events.

Not so Obvious: Traffic Safety, School Safety, Corporate and Private Foundations

Smart “out-of-the-box” thinking may land you grant awards from some not-so-obvious funding sources. Consider these options:

  • Highway Safety Grants: The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration administers grants for law enforcement purposes. The Section 402 State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program has numerous focus areas, including improving enforcement of traffic safety laws, and enhancing emergency services. States typically offer grants to local law enforcement agencies through a competitive application process.
  • Rural Area Development: If you live in a rural area of the country, you may qualify for a grant or loan under the U.S.D.A. Rural Development Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program. Public safety equipment is an allowable cost under this program.
  • School Safety Grants: Many more grant opportunities are becoming available for school safety in light of recent school shooting events across our country. Work with your School Resource Officers on special initiatives and include your equipment needs in the budget request.
  • Corporate Giving Programs: Many large companies and utilities offer grants that target safety and security in the areas where they are located. National freight railroad companies such as BNSF, CSX and Union Pacific administer grants with a focus on keeping the communities safe where their lines are operating. Big box stores such as Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club offer grants to support public safety and law enforcement initiatives in general. Sandwich shop chain Firehouse Subs has also provided grants for law enforcement and first responder equipment across the country. Also consider reaching out to your agency’s utility companies to inquire if they have grants that they offer locally or through their corporate office.
  • Private Foundations: Community Foundations operate across the country by providing funding to non-profit and some government agencies focused on keeping their neighborhoods safe. The Foundation Center is a great resource for locating the community foundation that operates in your area.

These are just a few of the many grant funding sources you can pursue to cover the cost of your tactical gear or other special operations equipment needs. Research these funding sources, see if they match your needs and agency eligibility, and begin applying now. Best of luck!