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Overlooked COPS grant killed at last minute

For five months, Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz waited for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a $250,000 grant opportunity she’d applied for last summer and won in September.

Tuesday morning she killed it herself, saying the proposal was out of sync with the city’s budget cycle, which begins each year on July 1.

Recipients have 36 months to actually implement the grant’s four-year cycle. But City Manager Jesse VanderZanden said he had no clear definition of what “implementation” meant.

In addition, “there’s implied consent that if you accept the grant you’ll be able to come up with the matching funds,” he said, and it wasn’t clear Forest Grove could do that.

In June 2015, then-Interim city manager Tom Gamble gave Schutz the go-ahead to apply to the U.S. Department of Justice for a four-year grant that would add two officers to her understaffed department and answer the city council’s call for improved outreach to Forest Grove’s growing Latino population.

In September, Schutz learned her department was one of 2,000 nationwide to be offered a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, based on her plan to implement a new program called the “Trust Coalition,” which would assign one of the two new officers to the Inter-Agency Gang Enforcement Taskforce and the other to liaison duties with the Latino community.

All Schutz needed in order to accept the grant was council approval by Dec. 1.

But it wouldn’t be a slam-dunk decision. The four-year COPS grant requires the city to cover the majority of the $872,282 cost of employing two officers for four years. Over that time span, the DOJ would provide $250,000, leaving the city to cover the remaining $622,282. After four years, the city could keep the officers or allow their contracts to expire.

In addition, council members didn’t even know Schutz had applied for the grant.

By the time Schutz found out she’d gotten it, Gamble had been replaced as city manager by Jesse VanderZanden, who was busy getting up to speed in his new job, as well as overseeing plans for the Times-Litho site and other big projects.

Schutz and VanderZanden kept trying to fit a discussion of the grant proposal into the city council’s packed agendas, but with the Dec. 1 acceptance deadline approaching and no council attention in sight, Schutz had to ask the DOJ to extend the deadline to Feb. 15.

She finally made her formal presentation to the council Dec. 14. But the agenda was so packed, Schutz had only 13 minutes to explain the grant and her proposal and then ask for the council’s direction.

It was too big a decision to be rushed through with little discussion, so councilors decided to revisit it later. Two council meetings came and went with no discussion, leaving next Monday’s meeting, Feb. 8, as the last opportunity. Then Schutz nixed it.

VanderZanden said if the DOJ had extended the acceptance deadline beyond Feb. 15, he might have been able to fit it into the next budget-cycle discussion. But there were no more extensions, Schutz said.

Several of the city’s Public Safety Advisory Commission members worry that declining the grant will make it tougher to win others in the future.

“That may be a possibility,” VanderZanden said, but cautioned there’s no proof that would happen.

Schutz can reapply, he said. “The game is not over.”