DALLAS (AP) — Attorney General Loretta Lynch launched National Community Policing Week by announcing Justice Department grants on Monday that will help police departments across the country hire new officers.
The $119 million in funding was announced in Dallas, site of a sniper ambush in July that left five law enforcement officers dead. Other events planned for the week include a town hall discussion on diversity in law enforcement and an awards ceremony, both in Washington.
Speaking at a forum at a Dallas high school, Lynch said community policing is a partnership between law enforcement and the community. Dallas, which Lynch said already has a strong community policing model, is scheduled to receive $3.1 million to hire 25 new officers.
“It is work that takes time,” she told those gathered at the forum, including students and officer cadets. “It is work that begins before there is a tragedy or before there is a difficult situation and it continues after that and requires the kind of commitment that you all have shown here in Dallas.”
The grants, provided by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, are being awarded to 184 law enforcement agencies and are intended to create or preserve more than 900 positions. Almost all of the jobs will be new hires, though the grants will allow some officers to either be rehired or protected from being laid off.
The goal is to highlight the need for strong relationships between communities and law enforcement, an especially urgent Justice Department priority in light of a monthslong stretch of high-profile slayings of both police officers and citizens in not only Dallas but in communities including Baton Rouge, Charlotte and suburban St. Paul, Minnesota.
“The recent events we’ve seen, particularly this summer, have raised the visibility of this issue beyond just the communities that have traditionally felt impacted by it,” Lynch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Lynch, who will join Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings for an evening in the community on Tuesday, said, “It’s been tremendously heartening that Dallas has stuck together through all of that.”
“I thought frankly it was just a tragic irony that in a community where you had police officers who were making sure that the protest went forward as planned and as authorized, that’s the city that someone chose to come to and try to sow dissension,” she told the AP.
While still recovering from the July sniper attack, the Dallas Police Department is facing a new crisis as its pension fund approaches insolvency and scores of officers, including Chief David Brown, have announced unexpected retirements. That comes as the department is negotiating with City Hall to raise pay and build its ranks, which union leaders say have been depleted by low pay and poor working conditions. There are currently about 3,355 officers in a department that once had 3,600.
Recipients of the grants include large cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Louisville and Charlotte, but also much smaller agencies in Biddeford, Maine, Twin Falls, Idaho and Carlisle, Iowa.
Lynch said there’s broad agreement, including among protesters, about the need for effective and responsive police departments that keep communities safe. But she said there’s a simultaneous demand from the public for departments that are accountable and transparent about their decisions.
“There’s a hunger out there in so many communities, particularly minority communities, for a positive relationship with law enforcement,” she said.