Federal grants will add community policing officers to NEPA departments

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Wilkes-Barre, Pittston, Pocono Township. strength to enjoy

WILKES-BARRE — Three police departments in northeastern Pennsylvania will receive a total of $1.1 million in federal funding to hire nine officers to bolster their community policing efforts.

Wilkes-Barre received the largest share of $500,000 for four officers as part of the Justice Department’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Hiring Program grants announced Wednesday by U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic. Pittston’s share was $275,000 for two officers, and $375,000 went to Pocono Township in Monroe County for three additional officers.

Speaking at a press conference in the lobby of the Wilkes-Barre City Police Department headquarters downtown, Cartwright said the grants are typically five-year commitments, with the federal government covering the costs for three years and the municipalities being responsible for the remaining two years.

The event looked like a campaign stop for Cartwright, who is running for re-election to a sixth term in Congress against Republican Jim Bognet, as he touted his role as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee of the Chamber on Commerce, Justice and Science and its ability to bring home approximately $72 million in funding over the past two years for community projects, ranking first among 18 Pennsylvania lawmakers and being in the top 10 of 435 congressional districts nationwide.

Only four COPS hiring grants have been awarded in Pennsylvania, with three such departments in its 8th District, Cartwright noted.

“Each of these departments that we’re talking about today have made it very clear to me that they wouldn’t be able to do this work to hire these officers without funding from the COPS hiring grant,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright detailed the details of each department’s use of the funding:

• Wilkes-Barre will focus on a problem-solving program for high-crime areas and building relationships with community partners

• Pittston will employ officers who will specialize in advanced techniques that target their work with victims’ witnesses and suspects’ cellphones

• Pocono Township will help build relationships within the community to address issues such as theft, burglary and drug trafficking

When asked why additional funds were needed for the police supposed to be in the community, Cartwright deferred to Pittston Mayor Mike Lombardo and Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown before answering.

Lombardo said city leaders have target levels for staffing. “What this grant really allows us to do is kind of soften that hit in the budget and move it over time and allow us to shift gears,” he said.

Pittston increased its staff from eight to 10 when it received a COPS hiring grant and full-time staff remain at that level. “So it’s really, I think, a way for us to anticipate a schedule that we have. We can always use more police. More police cause less tension, which ultimately translates to efficiency,” Lombardo said.

Lombardo said he expects to be there in five years and the two officers hired with the grant will also be part of the force.

Brown pointed out that he had installed substations throughout the city as part of the department’s community policing program.

“Right now, we have a budget for 83 police officers. We’re going to move to 87 with Mr. Cartwright’s help,” Brown said. “That means more community policing in neighborhoods.”

Addressing his comment to a reporter, Cartwright said, “I was looking for a way to be polite by telling you that I didn’t like your question.”

The new hires will complement programs already in place, Cartwright said.

“I’m just done bragging about it. In Washington, I brag about the quality of our police officers in northeast Pennsylvania when it comes to community policing,” Cartwright said. “We don’t have the big city problems around here that other places in the country have. And it’s thanks to the hard work, dedication, devotion and bravery of our police in Northeastern Pennsylvania. And the answer is why do we give them more money? Because more police is better.

Contact Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

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