KNIGHTDALE — The police department hopes to acquire a federal grant that would allow the department to create a new patrol position solely responsible for Knightdale’s four elementary schools.
Currently, a Knightdale police officer is based at Knightdale High, but not Forestville Road Elementary, Hodge Road Elementary, Knightdale Elementary, or Lockhart Elementary.
The grant – through the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program – pays for 75 percent of a fulltime officer’s entry-level salary for three years. If Knightdale wins the grant, the town would pay only $19,000 of the $43,500 salary it currently pays to entry-level police officers.
“This grant opportunity has given us a chance to provide a service we’ve never delivered,” police Chief Jason Godwin said.
Two current Knightdale police officers were hired through a COPS grant. The funding program is popular but competitive.
Last year, the COPS program granted funding to about 220 of 2,500 applicant agencies. Even more agencies are expected to vie for a cut of this year’s $190 million grant budget, COPS spokesman Corey Ray said. Knightdale chances are better than others, Ray said, because the town plans to hire a School Resource Officer.
Since December, when a gunman killed 20 students and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., “school safety has certainly come to the forefront and become a priority (for the DOJ),” Ray said.
The tragedy in Connecticut prompted action from Knightdale, too. A month after the shooting, Godwin instituted a new policy requiring officers to visit Knightdale four elementary schools at least twice a month. Prior to that, there was no school visitation requirement.
“It’s not where we want to be (with school security), but it’s a start,” town councilman James Roberson said in January.
One murder and 13 cases of assault were reported in Knightdale between 2010 and 2011, according to Knightdale’s most recent annual crime report. Despite the low rate of violent crime, “we should add an additional layer of security anyway because it makes kids safer and because it goes a long way in building trust between students and police officers,” said Jeff Eddins, Knightdale town councilman and chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
“I think it’s going to be hugely beneficial seven or eight years from now when we’re visiting kids as soon-to-be drivers and telling them about safe driving tips,” Godwin added. “They’ll trust officer Joe who they’ve known since elementary school more than they would some guy in a uniform.”
The DOJ will announce grant winners in late August or early September, Ray said. The Justice Department will give additional priority to agencies that plan to hire military veterans, “which we will be happy to do,” Eddins said.