Agencies Brace For Possible Budget Cuts

Ocean Springs officers won't have to rely on the old fashioned way of taking fingerprints much longer. Ink will soon give way to a new automated scanning machine. Federal grant money is paying for it, because the department's $1.8 million budget can't afford it.

"This system itself, the particular one that we're lucky enough to be able to get has cost us through the grant about $44,000. That's a big ticket item and would be very hard to justify with the budget we work on now," says Chief Kerry Belk.

Any cuts in grant dollars will be felt the most by smaller agencies like Ocean Springs. But all fire and police departments will miss the extra money.

Biloxi Police Chief Bruce Dunagan says, "We bought every officer in the Biloxi Police Department, I think this was a couple of years ago, a brand new vest out of the grants and so if they start cutting back it's going to be a domino effect down the road."

The grants specify how each department can spend the money. The Gulfport Fire Department spent nearly $400,000 to buy expensive equipment.

Chief Pat Sullivan says, "And it replaced all of the breathing apparatus that we use in this department. We upgraded them to the most updated equipment that was out there. We would have had to come up with that money locally had we not gotten the grant."

If grant funding dries up, many departments won't be able to absorb the loss.

Belk says, "The potential is there, definitely, to lose a lot of things that we would not be able to get if this grant money is cut."

Gulfport Chief Steve Barnes says any loss of federal money will impact law enforcement nationwide. His department has received $6 million in the last four years.