Police departments across Southern New Hampshire are hoping to increase or replenish their ranks by applying for a new round of federal stimulus money.
The funding is coming from $1 billion recently appropriated for the COPS Hiring Recovery Program, which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Local towns first got this kind of federal backing when the COPS grants were established by former President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s. For those who were hired by those grants, the economic circumstances and dire job market seem remarkably similar to those today.
Pelham police Chief Joseph Roark was one of those new hires.
"I had graduated college in the early '90s and the job market was very poor," he said. "When the COPS grants started ... it opened a lot of police jobs that were previously not available. It's had a lasting impact on towns who wanted to buy into the community-based policing."
The grants helped efforts such as school resource officers, bike patrols and specialized beats, Roark said. He now wants to increase his 19-member department by one so he can add a school resource officer.
The town has tried to add a school resource officer for four years, but voters have rejected the proposal. Just last month, voters rejected spending $54,100 to "hire and equip" a school resource officer, 1,348-1,449.
The departments that win the latest round of grants get full funding for three years. But towns must commit to keeping the officer a fourth year. That's prompted towns like Salem and Plaistow to get selectmen's approval before applying.
Salem police Capt. Shawn Patten, the first Salem officer hired under a COPS grant, said he remembered being one of 300 people applying for two to three new spots on the force.
"There were hundreds and hundreds of people attending the police test when I was there," he said. "After that, we were lucky to get 50 to 60 (applicants) to show."