By Terri Sanginiti
Twenty-four new police officers were hired in Delaware through more than $5 million in federal stimulus money.
The state received more than double the national average in the COPS Hiring Recovery Program, U.S. Sen. Ted KAUFMAN, D-Del., said Tuesday.
"It's really a two-fer," KAUFMAN said. "We get the economy going and we also help law enforcement."
Wilmington Police Chief Michael Szczerba said the city has been able to put 16 new officers on the streets with the three-year grant.
The new officers raise the number of police in the city to 336 as of Tuesday. The department has an authorized strength of 337, Szczerba said.
"We have an attrition rate of about one officer a month," he said. "Part of the planning is when we have an academy class, we account for that attrition because we hire five above the authorized strength. We're doing basic high visibility policing and it enables us to put senior officers in the community policing unit, and we're going to continue moving forward."
Police agencies in Harrington, Smyrna, Selbyville, Cheswold, Dover, Middletown and Georgetown also have each added one officer.
Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt said the authorized strength of his department is 93 officers. It now has 91.
"A third of our department could retire at any time if they wanted to," Hosfelt said. "You're talking 93 people, and a third of them can retire."
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., also participated at a Tuesday news conference at Wilmington Police headquarters.
"Today is another example of real money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act coming to Delaware to put people to work and help reduce crime," Carper said.
"This was a competitive grant," KAUFMAN said of the COPS hiring grant. "The national average was a 14 percent funding award. In Delaware, because of the grants you wrote, because of the grants put together, because you're held in such high regard, we got 31 percent. That's more than twice what the national average was."
One recipient of the grant money is Middletown Police Officer Joseph Womer.
Womer, 32, worked at the Chrysler plant in Newark until it closed, and then was out of work for three months.
After a job search, he was hired by the Middletown Public Works Department, finished his schooling and was able to apply to the Middletown Police Department.
In April, Womer graduated from the Delaware State Police Academy.
"It's been a great opportunity for me," said Womer, who has a wife and two children. "I went from doing the same thing every day to going to something new every day. It's exciting. It makes it interesting to go to work every day. I'm very fortunate."