Grant-writing is not in Bill Smith”s job description. But the director of forensic chemistry has written six grants or so in his 14 years at the Columbus Police Department, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city.
Earlier in October, the department received a $518,697 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to hire three new officers.
The COPS Hiring Program grant, which Smith wrote, is the highest funded of eight similar grants awarded to police departments in the state.
Smith wrote the grant while working full-time at the Columbus crime lab, where he tests controlled substances and analyzes digital data.
The grant will completely fund the three officers” entry-level salaries and fringe benefits for three years. After that, the city has to retain the officers for at least another year.
What was your process for writing the most recent grant?
We actually applied for it last year. We applied for $788,000 to get four officers through a new program under the Obama administration. This year, we applied again for three positions and that”s what we got.
First, you have to establish how much you need, how much officers cost. We had to pull statistics as far as crime rates, our foreclosure rates, our budgets and how much money the city has lost.
After you get how much it”d cost, you write down what the officers would do. You write down the department”s goals and what it”s been doing, about the bike patrols and the substations.
We came up with all that and submitted the application after a couple weeks of work. We didn”t work on it every day, all day. It was a couple hours here, a couple there.
How stiff was the competition for the grant?
When you pull up the website, it seems like every city in the country applied for it.
This is the largest grant I”ve ever been involved in, definitely. To my knowledge, it”s the largest single grant the department”s received.
How did you become involved in grant-writing?
The first one I was involved in writing was a Justice Administration grant to get (crime lab) video analysis equipment in spring 2005.
It was just one of those things that popped up. We needed it and it was available.
We did it again the following year to get more equipment that ultimately ended up coming to the lab here.
(The department) wouldn”t do it, so I found a way to do it without any money.
How difficult is it to write a grant?
Some of these grants can be 20 pages. The one for COPS was about 10 to 15 pages of information.
They take a lot of effort. Grant writing is a full-time job and it”s an art. There”s more to it than writing the grant. You have to manage it. You have to file quarterly reports with the federal government. You have to keep records. You let them know how much you”ve spent.
It”s record keeping, but when you”re keeping up with five grants at one time, it”s a lot of record keeping.
People look at grants like they”re free money. They”re not. Usually, there”s a lot of work that goes into maintaining them.
Do you enjoy writing grants?
It”s not something I enjoy doing. I”d be lying to you if I told you I did. It”s something you do because you need it. It”s out of necessity, not because you like to do a circle dance and pull your hair out, which is what it feels like sometimes. I”m doing all I can do to keep up with (the crime lab).
Is it difficult to find grants?
There”s so many grants out there that you need someone in the department who knows what grants we need specifically. The grants are very often specific and you don”t want to apply for all of them.
Every department should have a guy who”s looking for grants because they are there. I”ve had some success, but I”m not the only guy in the department who”s written grants.
Finding grants isn”t always easy, but the federal government is a great resource. You can go to grants.gov and search for a particular kind of grant. Then, you have to see if you qualify and what the requirements are. You have to find grants that go along with what your department wants to do. You can”t let a grant push you in a direction that you don”t want to go.
Yeah, the money is there, but it the grant going to benefit the city? That”s what I look for when I search for grants. I look for grants that are not going to cost the city money and whether it will advance the goals of the department.