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How Grantsmanship Can Help a Tribal Police Department

Notes From the Field
Date Published
January 7, 2020

The books say that grantsmanship is both an art and a science. The art of writing a grammatically correct, error-free missive about why someone should give their money to your agency requires the suave salesmanship of P.T. Barnum, combined with the criminology chops of James Q. Wilson and the science know-how of Albert Einstein. Or does it?

Here at the Miccosukee Police Department, we had a big problem with speeding on our roads. We are a rural community: When a high-speed crash happens, it takes the fire department between a half-hour and an hour to get to us. People were dying.

As the grant manager of the department, I documented the problem, used state-level data to show trends, and procured funding to address the issue. I wrote grant applications that brought significant funds into our agency. An award of $144,000 was used to buy radar trailers to slow people down. Approximately $161,000 was used to set up a highway safety program, with over $40,000 for overtime patrol. These funds allowed officers to provide aid at crash sites until emergency services arrived.

The program was so successful that funding was increased to $512,000 in its second year, based on the strength of data showing that we reduced fatalities, increased speeding citations, and saved lives. Grant funding helped my agency bring life-saving resources to our community. Every agency should consider writing and submitting grants. The truth is that securing grants is not all that hard. The key to grants is just knowing where to go, how to document, and whom to approach for help.

Where to Go

First, never reinvent the wheel — it takes up time and precious resources that you and your agency could be spending on other things. Try to network and ask a grant writer to give you a copy of a recent successful grant proposal. Most grant writers are proud of their work and love to share their projects. Even though grants are competitive, giving you a copy of my funded grant doesn’t mean that next year you will be given my share of the money. Reach out to a grant writer at another agency or take a look at the funding agency’s website to find out who has successfully applied in the past. If all else fails, a public records request will get you a copy.

The key to winning a grant is to ask. You can get funding from the government (federal, state, county), from private sources (family foundations, corporations, charities), and from local businesses (car dealerships, sandwich shop franchises, dog food companies, big box stores). There is money out there for just about everything. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — part of the U.S. Department of Justice — is one government entity that directly funds police agencies to purchase equipment, conduct training, and launch other programs. You should also look outside government. Big companies love to give away money to buy things like bullet-resistant vests for police canines or stage a crime prevention fair, because they get good publicity, good feelings, and maybe a tax break.

Remember National Night Out? If your bosses allow it, you can make a big banner with the logos of donors. A trailer for the honor guard or the Police Explorers can even use NASCAR-like logos to let everyone know who supported you, for as long as the vehicle is on the road. These interactions build relationships between your agency and your community. Think outside the box when it comes to acquiring funds. Some grants flow from formal written applications and others are a result of strong community relationships. Use both options wisely.

How to Document

Qualitative measurements — or measuring how people feel about an issue — are great for gaining a deeper understanding of a subject. But whenever possible, use numbers and provide evidence. Quantitative measurements — numerical data or statistics — provide an objective accounting of the issue. 

Grant funding agencies love quantitative measures, statistics, numbers, goals, objectives, or things that can be measured. Try to use quantitative over qualitative measures if possible. Increasing DUI arrests by 10% is a great goal. Reducing traffic fatalities by 10% is also a great goal. Increasing speeding citations by 10% is similarly a great goal. All three examples define a proposed solution to a problem based on numbers.

A traffic safety program deploying speed-measurement radar trailers to slow down passing vehicles combined with overtime pay for DUI officers to do saturation patrols on Saturday nights would allow you to meet all three goals. This program would allow your officers to get drunk drivers off the road and get the sober ones to slow down. There are many grantmaking agencies out there that would be willing to fund a program like this. Give them three years of data on your arrests and fatalities, and then explain what you want to do and how you intend to do it.

Whatever program you choose to implement, remember to provide evidence for it.

Whom to Approach for Help

First, you need the support of your stakeholders. Make sure the chief of police and other command staff members will support you. If you will need to use patrol officers, don’t forget to include the patrol commander; increasing bike patrol, foot patrol, “DUI wolfpacks,” or other preventive patrols will come from that unit. Don’t leave your boss out in the cold wondering what you are up to.

If you are working for an American Indian tribe, make sure to also contact tribal court judges, council members, important clan leaders, and any other stakeholders who may be invested in the project. The general community may also offer support for your project. Don’t forget: When working with people, respect and collaboration are key to success.

Similarly, if you are working for a municipal police department, engage your stakeholders. Parents, schools, businesses, the city council, and local leaders are all great collaborators for this kind of project. I get a lot of support from Mothers Against Drunk Driving when I apply for grants.

You can always hire a professional to write your grant for you, but this approach is expensive! I recommend trying to write a grant yourself first. Start small and work your way up. For example, try writing a grant for a $1,500 award — they exist and can help offset some costs. As you start winning funding, try for larger grants. Successful grant writing is all about practice, and the first step is to write a problem statement.

Problem Statement

When considering any grant — formal or informal — the first step is to figure out what your service population needs. What is the problem your community or your agency is facing? Table 1 shows a list of problems and a list of programs or equipment that can be requested in a grant to solve that problem.

Table 1. Solutions to policing issues that can be funded by grants.
Problem Solution
Auto Burglary Enhanced Patrol on Overtime
Disconnect from Community Bike Patrol or Foot Patrol on Overtime
Drugs and Alcohol Counseling Program
Drunk Driving Targeted Enforcement on Overtime
Mental Illness Community Referrals to Treatment
Speeding Targeted Enforcement on Overtime

Describe the problem. Use facts and statistics from published research that agree with your assertion that the problem exists. Supplement your research with crime statistics from your own departmental records or dispatch sections. The managers of these sections can give you the statistics that will set your grant proposal apart.

Descriptive statistics such as the mean, mode, median, and standard deviation provide a rich explanation of the issue in numbers. Grant reviewers often rely on these statistics to figure out the extent of the problem described in applications. As such, it is a good idea to describe the issue with numbers. Spending some time familiarizing yourself with statistical terms and concepts may be helpful — there are many free sites that can help online.

Common spreadsheet software will calculate the mean, mode, median, and standard deviation for you. Simply enter your data set and use the formulas function. If you are good with presentation applications, you can make charts, graphs, scatterplots, and other graphics that impress.

Once you have described your problem and proposed your solution, you then need to figure out what resources to ask for. You will need a System for Award Management (SAM) account, D-U-N-S number (a nine-character identification number from Dun & Bradstreet), and an Indirect Cost Letter. A treasurer, finance director, or accountant can help you gather those things together and explain what they are for. Your IT department likely can help you with applying for access to some of the systems you will need.

In the case of a tribal agency, the tribal chairman or other CEO will have to sign the contract. Keep the tribal attorney in the loop too; sometimes the tribal chairman will want the attorney’s opinion before signing. Nontribal agencies will need the approval of the chief of police, and perhaps even the city manager. Find out who needs to give approval to submit your grant before you submit it. This will make the process faster and easier.

You will need to work closely with the chief of police to make sure all of these important stakeholders are involved. Do not overlook the importance of buy-in from your agency and community leadership. The funding you bring in will no doubt make you very popular in the community. If you solve the problem you identified, they will sing your praises for years to come and perhaps even throw parades in your honor.

Plan for the Future

In February 2019, Steve Greco, a first-year cop in my agency, had just finished his shift and was on his way home to his pregnant wife. He was struck head-on and killed by a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 75. He never got to meet his daughter, who would be born about a month after the funeral. We owed it to Steve to take care of his wife and daughter.

Grant writing sometimes helps us plan for situations like this by forcing us to think ahead about what issues may come up and how we can solve them.

We were able to use grants from the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum, the Stephen Stiller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, and other generous local donors to pay for final expenses and fallen officer benefits. Keep a list of generous donors who can help if this happens to you. Plan for a line-of-duty death; they happen without warning. Even though GoFundMe is not a grant, don’t forget that resource.

A Final Word of Advice

Grant writing may sound intimidating, but the best advice I can give you is to just try. Go research a grant opportunity, write down your thoughts, see the boss, and pitch your idea. Last year the U.S. Department of Justice awarded over $56 million to support law enforcement health and safety, more than $70 million for school safety, and over $21 million to buy bullet-resistant vests. Some of the departments that won these awards had fewer than 10 officers and some had more than a thousand. Some were tribal police departments. Most were not. The one thing they all had in common was that some writer mustered up the courage to submit an application. So why not you?

About Notes From the Field

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the research, development, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. NIJ aims to address the critical questions of the criminal justice field, particularly at the state and local levels.

NIJ Director David Muhlhausen developed the Notes From the Field series to allow leading voices in the field to share their strategies for responding to the most pressing issues on America’s streets today.

Notes From the Field is not a research-based publication. Instead, it presents lessons learned by on-the-ground criminal justice leaders, from years of experience and thinking deeply about criminal justice issues.

Date Published: January 7, 2020