The Waco City Council voted Tuesday to apply for a $1.5 million federal grant that, along with $1.6 million in local spending, would pay for 12 new Waco Police Department officers for three years, allowing the department to increase its night patrols and community engagement.
Council members voted 5-1 to approve the grant application through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ Hiring Program. Council Member Kelly Palmer cast the dissenting vote, saying the required local spending would take away from other needs.
The grants are awarded through a competitive program designed to help agencies hire or rehire officers to increase their community policing capacity, according to the DOJ.
Council Member Jim Holmes said pursuing the grant makes sense because the city hopes to increase its police force in the coming years.
“We see a need for more patrol, more enforcement and more presence,” Holmes said. “I am supportive of this grant.”
The grant would offer an award of $1.5 million for a three-year period, and would require a more than $1.6 million match from the city over that period, bringing the total cost to hire the officers to $3,131,738.03 over three fiscal years. The grant also would require the department to keep the grant-funded officer positions at least another year after the grant support runs out, which would cost almost $1.2 million.
Council members said the grant would help the goal of officers building relationships with the community while working with the Neighborhood Engagement Team, which received funding last year, allowing for the hiring of additional officers to help engage residents in a positive way.
Waco Police Chief Sheryl Victorian has prioritized community policing since she was hired in March. Victorian also expressed her desire to be able to hire more officers during a City Wide Prayer event last month, when she asked faith leaders from McLennan County to pray over Waco’s law enforcement.
During a discussion of the grant application at Tuesday’s council meeting, Palmer said she is concerned the local spending required for the program would take away from other city priorities.
Palmer said while public safety is important, it is not the only need of the city that the council should be looking into.
“Our resources are so limited,” Palmer said.
Council Member Hector Sabido said he has seen the relationship between the police department and people of color change in a positive manner.
“For that reason, I am supportive of this resolution,” Sabido said.
He said he hopes the grant will help the department respond to calls more quickly and help the community feel safer.
“I think Waco is really unique in that yes, we see some disparities, but we also see that we need change and unification,” Sabido said.
Holmes said he is concerned about the lack of officers during the night patrol. In previous presentations, Victorian has said there are typically fewer than 15 officers on duty during night patrol.
Council Member Andrea Barefield echoed Holmes and Sabido in support of the resolution.
“It is pretty much understood here that our community is a priority, the safety of our community is a priority,” Barefield said.
She said residents cannot advance in other ways if they are not safe in the community.
“We know that more boots on the ground and members of the force are necessary,” Barefield said. “We are experiencing a bit of a crisis in our city, and this opportunity that isn’t solely out of our budget, that does have grant support, is right on time.”
She said it presents Victorian an opportunity to enhance the police department and the whole development of the community without putting a huge dent in the city’s budget.
Council Member Josh Borderud said he hears residents ask for more patrol to be available.
“The opportunity to add over 10, 12 patrol officers would be a great benefit to our community, and I look forward to seeing the direction that our department is taking with our new chief,” Borderud said.
Mayor Dillon Meek said a primary goal of his is to have every part of Waco to be safe, calling it part of a proactive strategic plan.
“I recognize that there are multiple approaches to achieving that goal … but I am excited to support this measure tonight,” Meek said.
He also said he recognizes Palmer’s concerns and is committed to working strategically on other issues.
“My goal is to get these funds and resources to the department,” Meek said.