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Local issues sometimes require local solutions

By James Fuller

Too often law enforcement agencies are looking for the deep pockets of government or major corporations to either fund local projects or obtain equipment. Although there certainly are monies available from these sources, sometimes the easiest answer may be as close as the corner store. For example, in order to secure funding for a one week drug prevention youth camp, the Winooski (Vermont) Police Department used several local sources.

Grants from the area Wal-Mart store, contributions from local merchants, material suppliers, the Vermont National Guard, and banks together financed a week long adventure for 80 teens. Clothing, food, and accommodations were completely provided as a result. Since this program was not a priority of the federal government, and not pricey enough for major corporations, searching for grants from these locations would have been fruitless and frustrating.

The process for seeking local grants follows the same course in almost all cases.

First, define your problem.
Is it a lack of a specific article of equipment or a program that you would like to offer?

All too often officers will approach their Chief with an extra-budgetary need. They may have a good idea, but there was no funding allowed in the fiscal year allocations from the town fathers. For this reason the usual answer is “find a grant.” Before running off to your Congressman’s office be aware that the federal government sets priorities in what services or operation that they want to fund.

In many cases the priorities set by the Feds are not yours, for example, in the typical Homeland Security Grant -- federal funding to Vermont for first-responder equipment, training and planning dropped from about $20 million in 2004 to $7 million in 2007. Another reduction to about $3 million can be expected in 2008.

Even so, under the guidelines of these grants you can purchase radios to cross communicate, but not vehicles, weapons, and the like. If your department wants a rifle, then this is not the course to take.

Be aware of the programs that the federal government is sponsoring in any given year.  These run the spectrum from gang issues to combating methamphetamine labs. If you proposal does not meet the current political mood, it has absolutely no chance of being heard.

Your city may have a youth problem but perhaps that year youth is not the Fed's concern. I won’t even get into federal reporting requirements and paperwork. For those of you who have to do this, you understand. It sometimes plainly isn’t worth the hassle.

Second, positively identify what it is you should have to fill that need.
Once I was asked to find a grant to get some Tasers. This was a very good idea, but a little short on detail. Did we need just a Taser or did we need a Taser, batteries, cartridges, holsters, and training? If you want to have a bike rodeo, do you also need bike helmets? If you want to sponsor a Citizen’s Police Academy what else do you need besides officers to provide training? Extra overtime monies? Department equipment costs? Maybe some refreshments, t-shirts, and certificates? Make a list, check it twice, and price it so when you make your presentation the needs are very clear.

Third, identify a partner or partners that have similar interests to your project and the resources to help.
I would not approach the local hospital for a grant to purchase a Taser, but I sure might for an AED. Believe it or not, most hospitals or state medical associations have a mandate for community service. Funding a life saving device may be right in line with their mission, find out. The rifle you always needed may be available through a local rod & gun club or perhaps a sportsman’s association.

To avoid any misperception of soliciting to serve our own needs we need to do our homework. If a fraternal organization has a Web site, check it to see if they have a publicly stated mission for community grants. Most do. If you are looking to fund program for youth, there are many other resources available.

As I mentioned earlier, Wal-Mart stores have a publicly stated mission to provide grants to the community. Boy Scout troops, Cub Scouts, local clubs and adult organizations are all recipients of community grants.

Each store has a coordinator to provide information and resources. You may not receive the whole amount you are looking for but an extra $100 will buy a lot of bike helmets. Combine that with the local fraternal organizations, the local professional societies, and the like, you will find a fully funded safety program.

There are many possible donors to seek smaller grants for local programs. Listed here are but a few mentioned in the article.

Foundation Center: An extensive directory and guide to private non-profit foundations.

Wal-Mart: Local Wal-Mart stores offer small community grants. Each location has their own representative. For general information you can browse the web.

Target: Each store has their own representative. For more information you can browse their website.

Exxon-Mobil: Your local dealer will have information regarding the Exxon Mobil Foundation grants. For general information you can review the corporate web site.

Let’s not single out Wal-Mart, if your community hosts a Target store or just about any other major retail outlet, check and see. Target gives back to the community 5% of their sales that add up to millions of dollars. Perhaps you have a need that can be fulfilled through their program or employees.

Does your department fill their cruisers at the local Mobil Station? I have found that Exxon-Mobil also has a community grant program. The submission forms are easy and uncomplicated.

When looking for funding, it is easy to overlook other organizations that have a vested interest in the health and welfare of the community. Among them are insurance companies.

Almost all insurance carriers have some sort of community grant program focusing on the specific goals of the organization. For instance, automobile insurers are interested in highway safety. Health insurance providers are interested in community health and safety.

Use these resources to your advantage. One year our city offered a program that provided a bicycle helmet to every elementary school child free of charge. Additionally, when feasible, our officers handed out a “citation” toward a drawing for a mountain bike to children observed wearing their helmets. Our full sponsor was a local HMO. One advantage of this program was that traumatic head injuries to children that summer as a result of bicycle accident almost disappeared entirely. Good for us, good for the company, good for the community, good for the Department.

Check the local banks. How many banks have their logo on a marathon shirt? (Answer: just about all of them.) Surely they might be interested in helping your Citizen Police Academy get started.

Most certainly not least, do not forget local non-profit organizations. There are community groups everywhere that have grant and awards available, especially for any program benefiting young people. These can be researched on the www and most will lay out their goals and guidelines ahead of time. One such nonprofit organization, the Turrell Fund, supports youth and educational programs in the states of Vermont and New Jersey. They are keenly interested in new ideas and programs. You can find many of these organizations through a resource called the Foundation Center. Although there is a yearly charge for this service it may more than make up for itself if you find the right funding source.

Fourth, it is important to remember though that even when applying for program monies from the corner store, you need to have a solid proposal just the same as if you were submitting it to the state. Don’t forget that you are the stewards of the monies received and constantly under the scrutiny of the public. Be above board and forthright in all reporting requirements. This may sound like advice that you have heard before, but it may save you from any accusation in the long run.


About the author


James Fuller started his police career in 1974 as a patrol officer in a small Borough in Pennsylvania. Since then he has served in almost every other capacity, as Detective, Sergeant, and School Resource Officer. He recently returned from a six month assignment in the former Soviet nation of Kyrgyzstan where he was tasked with implementing Community Policing strategies on a nationwide basis. He also has a teaching background in Journalism and American History. He authored the book, “Men of Color, to Arms! Vermont African Americans in the Civil War” has been enthusiastically received as a definitive work. He has published articles in several national and state-wide periodicals. He lives in South Burlington, Vermont.

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