Chief says he will get COPS funds

Amid concerns about the cost of accepting a grant that would put another police officer on Bellevue’s streets, the borough’s police chief has pledged to come up with the necessary funds.

Bellevue was one of only seven municipalities statewide to be selected to receive a Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) grant through the United States Department of Justice. The $297,000 grant would pay the salary and benefits for a full-time officer for three years. The terms of the grant require that Bellevue fill all current vacancies in the department, and then continue to employ the additional officer -- at borough expense -- for one additional calendar year.

No one really debated the need or desire for another officer when council met in a work session on Tuesday. Several officials, however, questioned how Bellevue would pay for the fourth year, as well as potential collateral fiscal damage.

Council member Jane Braunlich said that guaranteeing 15 full-time officers jobs for four years could have a devastating effect when the police contract is negotiated next year. With jobs guaranteed, she said, the officers would have no reason to make concessions that otherwise might result from the fear that positions would be eliminated for financial reasons.

“It’s going to bankrupt us in four years,” Braunlich said.

She and council member Linda Woshner suggested opening discussions with the police union now to reach an agreement before the borough officially accepts the grant, which must be done within 90 days.

“I feel like I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” said council member Susan Viscusi. “I want to know where the money’s coming from.”

Police Chief Matt Sentner promised to come up with the funds to pay for the fourth year. He said that the department could forego purchasing police cars in 2012 and possibly 2013, which would save some $60,000. He also noted that the new officer would generate revenue through fines from arrests and citations.

Sentner stressed the need for an additional officer who would give the department the manpower necessary to implement community-oriented and crime prevention programs such as neighborhood crime watches, bike and foot patrols and narcotics investigations.

The chief said that although Bellevue may be experiencing fewer crimes, the crimes that are occurring are more serious than in the past. The rate of crimes such as burglary, robbery, rape and homicide are increasing, he said, and those numbers are what made Bellevue eligible for the COPS grant.

“That gives you a clue, an idea, who’s moving into Bellevue,” Sentner told council. “We’re on that fence,” he said, “We can go one way or the other.”

He said that nice streets and houses will not help attract people to Bellevue if they do not feel safe there.

“This COPS grant, and I’m speaking from the heart, will save Bellevue,” Sentner said.