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Military veterans to get priority for police jobs under COPS grants

Federal grant program to put more cops on the street emphasizes jobs for military veterans who served after 9/11. Unemployment among recent veterans stood at 12.7 percent in May.

Recent military veterans will have top priority for jobs under a federal program to put more police officers on patrol on America‘s streets.

Under the Justice Department’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program, 629 of the 800 police jobs funded for the next three years — all the newly hired officers — must go to veterans who served at least 180 days’ active duty since 9/11. This is the first time the 18-year-old COPS program has required cities and counties seeking grants to hire veterans exclusively.

Recent vets face high unemployment rates, and Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that this initiative is part of the Obama administration‘s effort to try to help them transition to civilian life. 

“We don’t think if they fought like hell over there they should have to fight as hard [to find a job] when they get back home,” Mr. Biden said on a press conference call, shortly before Attorney General Eric Holder announced the new COPS requirement in Philadelphia.

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In his State of the Union message in January, President Obama declared that employment for military veterans would be a priority for his administration. But joblessness remains a stubborn problem.   

Unemployment among recent veterans jumped to 12.7 percent in May, up from 9.2 percent the previous month, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Veterans Affairs blog notes that this number jumps up and down but is trending downward overall.

Police departments have had their own struggles with funding and personnel. At least 85 percent of departments have reported budget cuts, and thousands of police positions around the country have remained unfilled due to lack of funding, noted Associate Attorney General Tony West during the conference call.

The grants announced Monday total more than $111 million, which will help bolster departments in 221 cities and counties — and the money is already appropriated, so will not provoke a budget fight in Congress.

COPS funding approached 1990s levels at the height of the recession in 2009, though it has fallen off significantly since the end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

President Bill Clinton signed off on the program as part of a package of anticrime legislation in 1994. It did not get as much funding under President George W. Bush, but the current vice president doesn’t see it going away anytime soon.

“It’s popular with the public, needed by veterans, and will benefit the community all around,” said Biden.