Big federal grant makes officer in school possible

Finding city, school district funds also needed


Last updated 11/29/2023 at 10:54am

A plan to aid the police department in Grand Coulee was awarded a large federal grant that may help pay for a school resource officer, training, community engagement, and more.

It’s the plan that officer Matt Gilbert pitched to his city council last week after learning the Justice Department grant he’d applied for last May had actually been awarded, the same plan he put forth to the Grand Coulee Dam School District board Nov. 13, a plan for which they would each have to significantly adjust their budgets.

Gilbert told both the council and the board that award announcements are normally made in August, but he only learned in October that the city had been awarded $293,125 at the end of September. They have until Dec. 31 to accept it.

The money is to help implement the “City of Grand Coulee Capacity Improvements to Combat Violent Crime” program over three years that started Oct. 1. But the federal grant doesn’t cover all the costs.

The city council, which is about to set the city’s budget for 2024, is now trying to figure out how to accommodate another police officer position that would cost the city over $45,000 a year, cost the school district over $78,000 a year, with the grant kicking in $37,601 annually over the three-year program.

Those figures, which Gilbert presented to the council and school board, also include other non-grant costs like a gun, insurance, training, and the biggest one — a police car, the cost of which Gilbert said may well be reduced through other funding.

The overall program involves more than supplying a school resource officer (SRO) to Lake Roosevelt Schools, according to the grant application.

The program would include a “comprehensive, multi-faceted program to increase agency capacity in the critical elements of community engagement, training, analytics, and intelligence to reduce violent crime in the city and schools of Grand Coulee,” a summary states. It would also implement evidence-based force-on-force firearms training scenarios; create a community engagement team to host or participate in local events; and add a data analyst position to track, map, and record crime data.

Gilbert told the council Nov. 21 that much of the salary cost for the city could be made up by an extra officer eliminating overtime in summer when other officers now have to cover for the time off earned by others.

“For the last eight years, I’ve heard that additional officers will solve the overtime problem,” responded Councilmember Tom Poplawski. “It doesn’t.”

But law enforcement ends up dealing with troubled kids anyway, Gilbert pointed out, so having a presence in the school, building relationships with kids can solve a lot of problems before they get serious.

Officer Blake Martin, the DARE officer at the school, told the council the teachers are behind that idea and the school is “begging for assistance in the form of a law enforcement officer.”

Mayor Paul Townsend said that presence “should change the dynamic” at the school.

That may be so, argued Councilmember Ruth Dalton, but that doesn’t explain how the city can afford it.

Poplawski said accepting the proposal would throw the newly balanced draft city budget off by $41,000 a year.

Councilmember Anita Eylar asked if Grant County’s public safety tax, passed a few years ago by popular vote to help build a jail and support police departments, could be used to offset the cost.

That was a possibility, the council decided. Townsend said the city would research whether that fund could be used. A special council meeting was scheduled for last night (Nov. 28), after deadline, to consider that question.

The school district is going to survey students on the matter soon before responding to the proposal.


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