Across the nation, the law enforcement profession is facing an environment where discretionary funds for innovation and experimentation are extremely limited. Many agency budgets are so limited that training opportunities, equipment upgrades and updates, and sworn and civilian staffing levels have been negatively impacted. A consequence of the widespread budget crunch is that there is often little or no room for the development, testing, and implementation of innovative approaches to pressing crime and disorder issues.
The COPS Office has recently instituted funding to law enforcement to implement innovative projects through the COPS Office Micro-Grant Initiative. This funding comes in the form of small-grant “seed” funding. It is intended to mitigate the impact that the fiscal crisis has had on practical community policing projects that test ideas in a real-world laboratory, and helps to spur innovation within law enforcement agencies and across the profession. While these Micro-Grant projects are smaller in nature, they offer the benefit and flexibility of allowing specific law enforcement agencies to implement innovative initiatives that they would otherwise not have the resources to undertake. They are also designed to document the resulting lessons and convey the agency’s experiences to a national audience in the form of guidebooks, case studies, and other resources published and distributed by the COPS Office. While the grants are no larger than $50,000, they can have a significant impact both at a local and national level.
While the COPS Hiring Program (CHP) is the office’s centerpiece program and is most recognized for providing much-needed resources to state and local practitioners, the COPS Office actually has a long history in sponsoring flexible funding grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to undertake a variety of other innovative projects. This funding has come under programs such as the COPS Office Anti-Gang Initiative (AGI), the Youth Firearms Violence Initiative (YFVI), School Based Partnerships (SBP), Problem Solving Partnerships (PSP), and other specialized programs aimed at injecting resources to help law enforcement agencies test and spur innovative practices that would otherwise not have been possible. While those programs funded projects much larger in scope, the purpose of the COPS Office Micro-Grants remains the same as its distant grant program cousins: provide practitioners with the resources they need to conduct real-world tests of innovative ideas; document their experiences and results; and with assistance from the COPS Office, convey those results and the tools they used in implementing their projects for replication across the nation.
Last year the COPS Office funded several innovative projects under the Micro-Grant initiative. For example, the Salt Lake City (Utah) Police Department identified a significant problem with order maintenance issues, including public intoxication and disorderly conduct, in their downtown area. These issues are associated with the homeless and other marginalized populations, and they addressed the root of their order maintenance problem by working to ensure that the homeless population received resources and support from a multi-disciplinary outreach team that links them to city and community services.
The Greensboro (North Carolina) Police Department is taking a different approach, using their COPS Office Micro-Grant funding to address an unmet need. Recognizing that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that proactive problem-solving leads to more effective control and prevention of crime and disorder, the department is implementing a model for problem-solving and analysis across every rank and function of the agency. This model, the Stratified Model of Problem Solving, Analysis, and Accountability, provides department personnel with the information and skills necessary to address crime problems of differing complexity across the rank structure, and creates accountability for appropriately addressing problems based on one’s level of responsibility. This project offers the potential to institutionalize this effective strategy in a way that ensures that crime reduction efforts are strategic, and maximizes the likelihood of success in both responding to and preventing crime and disorder.
A third example of Micro-Grant funding is the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Police Department’s Officer Resiliency to Stress pilot program. This program is designed to train officers on how to self-regulate their emotional and physiological responses to stressors to improve their resiliency to their day-to-day stress. This project has the potential to help officers maintain their physical and psychological health and improve their professional careers and personal lives. It will test stress regulation techniques with a group of officers to measure the physiological and health outcomes.
Each of these projects clearly offers the opportunity to benefit the departments and jurisdictions receiving the grants, yet each project will also produce practical guides, training, and other resources to easily distribute the lessons learned and provide guidance to other law enforcement practitioners.
The COPS Office will soon be releasing a solicitation to support the funding of additional Micro-Grant projects. Law enforcement agencies are invited to submit ideas for innovative projects to enhance their partnership development, problem-solving projects, and/or organizational change efforts. For more information on the program requirements and application process for Micro-Grant funding, please visit the COPS Office website grants and funding page (www.cops.usdoj.gov).
Supervisory Social Science Analyst, COPS Office
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