Grants awarded to hire veterans and save police jobs threatened by budget cutsOSCEOLA COUNTY — Reed City and Evart are two of eight Michigan cities that will receive federal funding to hire military veterans to their police departments or save officer positions threatened by budget cuts this year. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, announced on Monday that grants would be given to 220 cities and counties around the nation, aimed at creating or saving approximately 800 law enforcement positions. More than $111 million will be awarded to local public safety agencies across the country. “We’ve had to cut a lot of things over the past few years, and there was no way we could sustain what we have with next year’s (city) budget,” said Reed City Police Chief Chuck Davis. “It (the grant) could have never come at a better time.” All new law enforcement positions funded by the “Vets to Cops” grant must be filled by recent military veterans who have served at least 180 days since Sept. 11, 2001. The grant also can be used for re-hired officers who have been layed off or are scheduled to be laid off at a future date because of budget cuts. The program provides the salary and benefits for officer and deputy hires for three years. Both the Evart and Reed City police departments will receive a $125,000 grant requiring a 25 percent match from the departments over the next three years. Evart Police Department will hire an additional police officer with the grant money. “We are more than excited to receive this grant,” said Deputy Chief Kendra Backing. “We would not be able to have an extra officer without their help.” The department currently employs four officers, with Police Chief Zack Szakacs scheduled to retire from the cheif’s position in January. The position for a fifth officer will be posted and hired as soon as possible, pending approval by the Evart City Council. The new position will help the department execute programs they have not been able to in the past such as educational programs within the schools, said Szakacs. “I want officers to be able to get in the classrooms do educational programs for kids,” Szakacs said. Szakacs and Backing said they will post the position, giving preferential treatment to veterans. The Reed City Police Department will utilize the money to maintain an officer position that had been in jeopardy. “One of our officers was scheduled for layoff,” Davis said. “The city council did vote to keep him, but now that this money has come through, it’s just a huge relief.” The money will also help ease scheduling issues between the four full time officers and part-time school liaison officer employed in the department, Davis said. “When a person takes a day off, we haven’t been able to fill their spot,” Davis said. “This is going to alleviate a lot of pressure for us.” Reed City and Evart both applied and were turned down for the first round of the grant distribution last year, but applied again in January for the second distribution, which includes a 75-25 match. “I’m glad that Evart got (the grant) too,” Davis said. “We both have the same desperate needs.” Grantees for the 2012 Hiring Program were selected based on fiscal need and local crime rates. An additional factor in the selection process was each agency’s strategy to address specific problems, such as increased homicide rates and gun violence. “This new opportunity for veterans is a commitment to support those who are coming home from their tour of duty,” said Bernard Melekian, COPS office director, in a press release. “We sincerely hope this effort encourages our veterans to continue to protect and serve the United States through new law enforcement careers.” Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin announced their support in a press release Tuesday for Reed City and Evart to hire and retain law enforcement officers. “Today’s announcement is especially rewarding,” said Stabenow. “Not only will the communities of Reed City and Evart be able to hire more police officers to keep families safe, but military veterans who have served since 2001 will be provided new job opportunities. It is so fitting that those who have kept our country safe and served in the military should be given the opportunity to come home and serve the public as police officers.” "For nearly two decades, the COPS program has been helping keep communities safe in Michigan and across the country," Levin said. "In addition to helping keep Michigan safe, these latest grants will help those who have served in the military continue to serve our nation." The City of Dearborn received the largest COPS grant in the state with $1.25 million to hire nine officers. Oak Park received the second highest with more than $681,000 to hire three officers. Walker, Taylor, Howell and Hamtramck also received the Vets to Cops grant.