WASHINGTON — Offering a "down payment" on his promise to put 100,000 more police officers on the streets of U.S. cities, President Bill Clinton Monday announced grants to hire hundreds of new officers nationwide, including six for the Garden Grove Police Department.
"I'm really ecstatic," Garden Grove Police Chief Stanley L. Knee said. "I think that these officers will save lives."
One of 74 cities to be awarded grants, Garden Grove will receive $593,533, to be matched by the city over the next three years. The money will be used to hire six new officers to help implement a new community policing program.
"Any time you get a grant, you feel good about winning," Knee said, "but it also tells you that things in the city need attention given to them. Garden Grove has one of the highest crime rates in Orange County."
The grant was part of nearly $50 million distributed by the Justice Department Monday in the first of three rounds of awards. Thirteen California cities and counties accounted for nearly 22% of the initial round, making the state the largest beneficiary.
Among the other Southern California departments receiving grants were those in Los Angeles, which got the maximum possible grant of $4 million, Inglewood, Moreno Valley, Fillmore and Fontana.
While not disputing Garden Grove's claim to a high crime rate, officials from several other Orange County cities that had been passed over for the grants expressed their disappointment Monday.
"Although we may not have as severe a problem" as Garden Grove, said Laguna Beach Police Chief Neil J. Purcell Jr., "the fact remains that we have had incidents here. We have an opportunity in south Orange County to nip this in the bud. My question is why does a city have to wait until it is totally inundated with gangs and violence before federal assistance can take place?"
A spokesman for Santa Ana said the city was disappointed at not receiving a grant but hoped to be funded during the next round of awards.
Officials in Anaheim, which had asked for $3 million to hire 22 more officers, said they were trying to remain optimistic that they, too, would be funded.
"We're still hopeful," said Kristine Thalman, the city's intergovernmental relations officer. "With the increase in crime and the influx of gangs the city has experienced over the past five years, you would think we would have an edge in getting this grant. But one never knows. The process is very competitive."
Other Orange County cities that applied for grants but did not receive them were Cypress and La Habra.
Harri J. Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Police Hiring Task Force, said the grants were awarded according to several factors, including levels of poverty and unemployment, local crime rates, strategies for community policing, levels of community support and the likelihood of the funded programs continuing after the initial grant is spent.
Kramer said she could not comment on why Garden Grove was picked over the other Orange County applicants.
In a one-page summary published by the Justic Department, however, the typical winning city was described as a "blue-collar bedroom community" where unemployment has "nearly doubled in the past five years" while "police staffing levels have decreased." The problem as been further compounded, the summary said, "by a significant increase in gang membership and violence."
Garden Grove officials say they plan to hire the six officers by early next year. Placed in two-member teams, those officers will patrol specific high-crime neighborhoods, said Capt. Scott Jordan, head of the department's community policing bureau.
"The role of the police officers will change to be more that of community organizers and liaisons," Jordan said. Among other things, he said, they will conduct surveys to identify specific problems, hold community meetings to enlist residents in crime fighting and seek volunteers for special projects such as graffiti control.
"Our mission is to improve the quality of life and reduce citizen fear," Jordan said. "We will create a situation in which drug dealers and gang leaders won't feel comfortable" operating.
Nationwide, the 74 awards will allow cities to hire 658 more officers. After all three rounds, the $150-million program will help pay for 2,000 new officers over a three-year period.
Los Angeles will be able to hire 54 police officers.
"This is a great beginning," Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan told Clinton during a conference call with five other mayors to announce the grants. "It's good to know we're all rowing in the same direction."
Clinton, whose Administration is trying to respond to a national outcry about crime, assured the mayors that "help is on the way."
Gov. Pete Wilson, during a brief Washington visit, said Monday that the awards were "only a drop in the bucket" and hoped that the federal government would be able to offer more in the future.
Also Monday, the Administration signaled that it wants to sharply reduce the number of gun dealers in the nation by increasing dealer licensing fees, now set at $10 a year. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen told the Associated Press on Monday that "it makes no sense at all to have over 250,000 dealers in guns . . . and to have a very minimum payment where you have people even operating out of their kitchens."
Times staff writer Mark Bousian and correspondent Terry Spencer contributed to this article.