State

Grant restores valley police jobs

The eight Modesto police officers who were laid off after a showdown between the police union and a cash-strapped city will get their jobs back.

Modesto won a $4.4 million federal grant Tuesday that will cover salaries for 13 police officers for the next three years. That means the city can hire back eight who were laid off July 1 and hire five additional officers.

The laid-off officers could be back at work as soon as next week, said acting Police Chief Mike Harden.

The city was one of about 1,000 agencies nationwide awarded $1 billion from the federal stimulus program. The Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Recovery Program handed out enough money to pay for 4,700 law enforcement officers over three years.

Agencies in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties won $25.3 million for 75 officers. The Merced Police Department received $1.5 million for five officers, and Stockton received $7.9 million for 20 positions.

Law enforcement agencies can use the money to rehire laid-off officers, save positions that could be cut or hire new officers.

In many cases, the grant money will save police jobs that were on the chopping block. The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department was awarded $2.5 million for eight deputies.

That means Riverbank, which contracts with the sheriff's office, will preserve a job that was targeted for a layoff. The money will restore community deputy positions in Salida, Denair, south Modesto, the airport neighborhood and Empire, Under-sheriff Bill Heyne said.

Competition for the funds was fierce. Applications were submitted for more than 38,000 positions, representing $8.1 billion in funding. But about $1 billion was awarded.

Harden said he was pleased with Modesto's award, even though it fell short of the $13 million the city wanted. Had the city won $13 million, it would have paid for 40 officer positions.

"Forty would have been nice, but 13 isn't bad," Harden said. "We're happy, and I think it shows that the federal government recognizes that local law enforcement is important to a vibrant community and is paramount to economic recovery."

Modesto's layoffs came at the end of a face-off between the city and the 202-member Modesto Police Officers Association. The city wanted the union to defer raises for one year to save $820,000 and prevent layoffs. The union refused.

The layoffs were part of other cuts made by the city to close a $4.8 million deficit for the budget year that started July 1.

The Modesto officers rehired with the grant money will receive the raises, said union president Tony Arguelles.

'Emotional roller coaster'

Even though it's only been three weeks since the officers were laid off, Arguelles said the eight who lost their jobs went through an "emotional roller coaster."

Applications for the COPS funding were scored on a variety of factors, including the region's fiscal health, poverty level and crime rate.

Some agencies were shut out. Merced County and Fresno County didn't receive funding. Merced County applied for $1.3 million to hire five entry-level sheriff's deputies.

"I don't know what the criteria is and how they scored folks, but we're certainly going to look into it," said Merced County spokeswoman Katie Albertson.

The funding covers three years of officer salaries. To win funding, agencies had to show they could keep paying those salaries for a year after the grant runs out.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

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