Gulfport will hire new officers with stimulus grant

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport's rank and file police officers can breathe a bit easier.  The police chief says he has no plans to layoff any of his sworn crime fighters.

Chief Alan Weatherford is about to submit his budget request to city hall.  Not only does it protect the 194 officers who patrol Gulfport, it adds four new patrolmen to the force.  That became possible when Gulfport got word the police department was receiving federal stimulus money.

More than $625,000 will come to Gulfport over the next three years.  It will pay for the extra officers to patrol city streets.

Damon McDaniel feels fairly certain his job with the Gulfport Police Department is safe.  What the 15 year veteran worries about are the young officers who know that since the city's finances are grim, and Gulfport department heads are trimming budgets by 10%, their jobs may be in jeopardy.  "It makes it harder to focus on the job at hand when you're worried about if you're going to be employed tomorrow," he said while running radar on Lewis Avenue in west Gulfport.

Gulfport's police chief wants his officers to relax.  When he was asked if he would layoff any patrolmen because of the budget situation in Gulfport, Chief Weatherford said, "Not at this time."

Gulfport currently has permission to put 202 officers on its streets.  But it only has 189 patrolmen and detectives on the road right now.  Why?  Because five officers are on military deployments.  And eight positions are vacant.  If he eliminates the vacant positions from his new budget, Weatherford figures "no one is going to be going home."

On top of that, the chief got word that his department was getting a federal stimulus grant.   The $625,000 will pay for the salaries of four new police officers over the next three years.  "At this time, that's extremely important," the chief said.

According to Vice President Joe Biden, "A big part of the Recovery Act is about building communities -  making them as strong as they can be, allowing every American family to live a better life than the one they are leading now.  And we can't achieve the goal of stronger communities without supporting those who keep our streets safe."

Just 20 agencies across the state were awarded COPS Hiring Recovery Program funds.  Meridian and Greenville were the only places awarded more officers than Gulfport.  However, nobody received as much grant money as the Gulfport Police Department.

Officer McDaniel said that should be welcome news to Gulfport's patrolmen.  "The load of the stress will lighten a little bit, and the officers will be able to focus on the job at hand," he said.

The only other coast agency to qualify for COPS Hiring Recovery Program money was the Biloxi School District.  Its $194,000 stimulus will cover the cost of a new school resource officer over the next three years.

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