City looks for crime-fighting funds as federal dollars shrink

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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - The price for crime protection is expected to exceed the $25 million already proposed to fix the county court system. Just how much more remains a question. Cities like Indianapolis are facing deep cuts from federal programs that once bankrolled police budgets by the millions.

Since 1994, the Justice Department's COPS Program - Community Oriented Policing Services - bank-rolled the hiring of 1,500 police officers across the state and dropped more than $20 million in crime-fighting dollars in city arsenals. Communities with growing crime rates can't seem to grasp that money now.

"The availability of money for a crisis like this is far more limited than it was five years ago," said Mayor Bart Peterson.

Between 2000 and 2004 Indianapolis touted its take: more than $15 million to put 200 police officers on the street. But last year, it didn't see a dime.

"Any funds that would have been received by Indianapolis would be funds that they would have requested and in 2005 - that has not been the case," said Gilbert Moore, Department of Justice. Moore confirmed that there had been no requests for crime-fighting funds in 2005.

The Bush Administration substantially cut the COPS program by 86 percent last year. The cuts came as the City of Indianapolis faced a more pressing threat: Either comply and keep police staffing levels at 1,232 sworn officers or pay back the $15 million in COPS funding. Up to 50 officers short, the city asked for a waiver.

"We lost a few to attrition last year, because of budget problems, and we're trying to build those back up again with recruits," said the mayor.

"They came to us. They said we have a problem and need to reduce the overall number of our sworn force and can you accommodate that? By doing so they've precluded any problems. They wouldn't be forced to pay back any money and they're not considered in violation of the terms of the grant," said Moore.

It's a break the city desperately needed as it grapples to fund public safety in a community fighting to yield the snatches of crime. "We're going after all the money we can get," said Peterson.

Just over a dozen Indiana agencies received COPS funding for fiscal year 2005 including the Avon, Muncie and Indiana State Police Departments, the Indianapolis Public Housing Agency and Pike Township Schools. The combined awards total less than $700,000. Mayor Peterson says he's still working on coming up with the city's price tag for public safety.