In the past five years, the Lexington police department has hired 95 officers but has lost 144 because of retirements, firings and attrition.
The city's budget crunch and a stagnant economy have thinned the department's ranks, but the picture looks a little less bleak thanks to $3.9 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Mayor Jim Gray announced Thursday that the grant will allow the city to hire 25 officers. It will be the first class of new hires in about two years.
The grant will pay for the officers' training, salaries and benefits for three years. The city is then obligated to keep the officers on for at least one additional year.
Despite some cost to the city once the grant runs out, including equipment and salaries, "it will be a fraction of what it would cost without the grant," city spokeswoman Susan Straub said.
There is no set date, but the hiring process will begin as soon as possible, police Cmdr. Doug Pape said. It takes about a year to get officers completely trained and patrolling on their own.
The 25 new hires will bring the total number of officers to about 549.
Even with the new hires, the division will be operating at 46 officers below full strength, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said. There are 595 sworn positions authorized by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
Along with funding the new officers, police Chief Ronnie Bastin said the grant would help avoid further cuts to police non-emergency services.
As the city tried to shore up a $27 million revenue shortfall for fiscal 2012, police made several cuts to long-standing community programs such as DARE, a youth program warning of the dangers of drugs; the CLEAR unit, which staffs full-time officers in high-risk neighborhoods; and GREAT, a gang-prevention program.
The cuts to those programs might have helped Lexington demonstrate a need for the grant, which was issued through the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, known as COPS.
The grant is intended to improve the department's ability to practice community policing — interacting with individuals, private groups and businesses to help prevent and solve crimes.
Officials said the city was lucky to receive the grant when many cities across the country are facing the same revenue shortfalls as Lexington.
"As you can imagine, in these economic times, the competition was very stiff," Bastin said.
According to a news release from COPS, 2,712 applications were received for this year's grants. The program had $243 million to award this year, but it received requests for more than $2 billion. Only 238 municipalities nationwide got a cut of the $243 million, and just 13 police departments received the full funding amount for 25 officers. Lexington was one of those cities, along with larger cities such as Miami, Cincinnati and Houston.
Though the grant is a bright spot in a bleak picture for public safety spending, officials said spending cuts will still have to be made across the board.
"It doesn't mean that our problems don't remain significant and that sacrifice isn't going to have to continue on the part of all of government, including fire and police," said Geoff Reed, senior adviser to the mayor. "But it does offer a safety net for public protection."