FUNDED Articles

Grant Funding for Rural Public Safety Initiatives

Nov 12

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Tuesday, November 12, 2019  RssIcon

By Ashley Schultz

Modern TV crime dramas create vivid scenes of life inside a police station. Each episode shows groups of investigators in the corner offices of skyscrapers, actively reviewing crisp video footage, receiving lab results, and evaluating large quantities of data at near instantaneous speeds. In the end, all of these resources align to catch the bad guy – even with spare time to allow for commercial breaks.


In reality, nearly 95% of all law enforcement agencies in the US have less than 100 full-time officers on staff (Reaves 2015). Three quarters serve communities of less than 10,000 residents. These small, usually rural, jurisdictions face the same crime problems as their counterparts in urban locations, but they must do so with lower budgets, less staff, and insufficient equipment (Weisheit et al. 1994).


One such discrepancy between rural and urban law enforcement agencies can be viewed in the number of personnel hired to investigate a single type of crime. In 2013, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that departments employing more than 100 officers were three times more likely to pay for staff assigned to domestic violence cases (81%) than their smaller counterparts (28%) (Reaves 2015). The same pattern holds true for other specialty units – including personnel to investigate child abuse (90% vs. 39%), human trafficking (42% vs. 11%), cybercrime (76% vs. 39%), and victim assistance (62% vs. 21%). These differences do not suggest that crime occurs in rural areas less often, but instead illustrate that larger departments have greater personnel and budgetary capacity to operate these dedicated units.


The imbalance of rural and urban forces are not unknown to federal decision-makers. According to a recent listening tour completed by the US Department of Justice and National Police Foundation, rural law enforcement agencies reiterated several challenges that need to be addressed, including (1) a lack of staffing; (2) a lack of budget to purchase equipment; and (3) a lack of time and/or expertise in applying to grant funding (Elkins 2019). The Department of Justice plans to continue these listening sessions in order to develop a final report for law makers in the future, but little is known about the anticipated outcomes or changes to be generated by that document.


In the meantime, what concrete steps can small law enforcement agencies take to secure extra funding for their public safety initiatives? The Grants Office team has assembled a few starting points below. Agencies may seek to pursue one or a combination of these activities as they ramp up operations in their jurisdictions.


1. Apply to federal grants designated for rural agencies.


Federal funders solicit a number of grant opportunities specifically for rural entities each year. These programs allow small public safety organizations to capitalize on hefty grant award sizes (often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) without facing steep competition from agencies with four to five times their capacity. Below is a short list of rural-friendly grants from 2019. Rural agencies should keep an eye out for new or updated programs as Congress solidifies the Federal Fiscal Year 2020 budget in the coming months.


Southwest Border Rural Law Enforcement Initiative (SWBI) - This program supports rural law enforcement agencies in preventing crime unique to the southwest border region - including human trafficking, sexual assaults, drug trafficking, and other forms of violent crime. Reviewers are particularly interested in projects that will improve communication and collaboration among federal, state, local, and tribal agencies.

·         Community Size: Jurisdictions of fewer than 100,000 residents. Priority consideration given to projects located within 25 miles of the US–Mexico border.

·         Funding Available: Ten awards of up to $200,000 each.

·         Last Due: July 2, 2019


Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking Program - This program supports criminal justice agencies, victim services providers, social services agencies, health professionals, and other community organizations to overcome the problems of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in rural areas. Reviewers are particularly interested in collaborative efforts to (1) reduce violent crime against women; (2) promote victim safety; and (3) improve response to survivors of human trafficking.

·         Community Size: Jurisdictions located within a rural census tract who are not part of an organized metropolitan statistical area. Confirm your project’s address at:

·         Funding Available: Fifty awards of up to $500,000 each.  

·         Last Due: February 14, 2019


Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic - This program supports collaborative efforts to prevent and reduce overdose deaths associated with opioids. Project activities promote partnerships between law enforcement agencies, courts, probation, corrections, as well as fire, emergency medical services, and hospitals. Reviewers are particularly interested in efforts to understand patterns and characteristics of problem drug use in rural communities.

·         Community Size: Jurisdictions located within a rural census tract who are not part of an organized metropolitan statistical area.

·         Funding Available: Eight awards of up to $750,000 each. 

·         Last Due: July 26, 2019


Community Facilities Grant and Loan Program - This program supports essential community facilities in rural areas. Funding may be dedicated to the construction and/or improvement of local amenities offered by public safety, healthcare, and other municipal service entities. While most construction projects are limited to loan funding, small one-time purchases for law enforcement equipment are often covered with grant funding.

·         Community Size: Low-income communities with fewer than 20,000 residents. Communities with fewer than 5,000 residents are given highest priority.

·         Funding Available: Individual award amounts vary based on project scope, median household income, and population. Funding is distributed as a combination of loans and grants.

·         Last Due: Varies by State. Contact your Rural Development State Office for more information:


2. Apply to state grants.


Law enforcement organizations with minimal experience or staff capacity to apply for federal programs can make valuable gains with state funding sources instead. These programs often have shorter, less complex application requirements than federal grants (e.g. 5-page narrative rather than 20-pages). State grants also allow for more simple project concepts (e.g. only purchasing equipment) whereas their federal counterparts will look for robust activity lists with budget components for staff time, officer training, policy development, community outreach, etc. Last, but certainly not least, state grants often come equipped with a friendly program representative who is willing to walk first-time applicants through the grant-seeking process.


To get acquainted with state-level grants applicable to rural law enforcement agencies, departments should spend an afternoon reviewing their State’s department of public safety and/or department of emergency management’s webpages for grant information. They may also contact the appropriate State Administrator using the links below –

·         Department of Justice State Administrators:  

·         Department of Homeland Security State Administrators:


3. Partner with other law enforcement agencies.  


Finally, rural law enforcement agencies should consider collaborating with other departments – including local public safety groups, emergency response teams, health agencies, K-12 school districts, higher education institutions, and other non-profit organizations – in order to take their initiatives to the next level. State and federal grant funders often place high value on proposals that involve partnerships. This is particularly true if they’re able to identify greater organizational efficiency and/or reduced costs in the final project. Whether you’re just starting to lay out the terms of a new partnership or have a great working relationship with another agency in the community, leveraging quality connections in a grant proposal will surely lead to more funded projects.


It’s important to note, however, that grant partnerships will involve more decision-makers at the table. This often leads to more meetings and (potentially) greater time commitments for each group. Small agencies should consider all the possible benefits and drawbacks to partnerships long before they invite others on board. If they do forge ahead with a grant partnership, the collaborative should identify a specific staff member who will oversee group operations. This person can set meeting agendas, send out email reminders, and ensure all agencies are adhering to set expectations.



Should your agency choose one or more of these grant funding routes, keep a look out for grant-training sessions. Most federal grant programs offer free webcasts for each solicitation. During these events, program managers review important application details and answer questions from the audience. A full list of webinars offered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance is available for replay at: The Office of Justice Programs supplements these webinars with their own training module titled “Grants 101” ( which walks potential applicants through the entire grant-seeking process, including writing the application and receiving notifications from the USDOJ. Finally, most states offer free in-person training sessions with an abundance of detailed information on how to properly apply for their own programs.


No matter your agency size, consider assigning  1 to 2 staff members to view and/or attend these sessions. Those individuals can report back to the department in order to train the whole team on the application process –  effectively saving time and resources while ensuring grant-seeking becomes a group effort! 






Elkins, Faye. Concerns of Rural Law Enforcement: What We Heard from the Field. COPS Office Dispatch, September 2019.


Reaves, Brian, Ph.D. Local Police Departments, 2013: Personnel, Policies, and Practices. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. May 2015.


Weisheit, Ralph, Ph.D., David N. Falcone, Ph.D., and L. Edward Wells, Ph.D. Rural Crime and Rural Policing. US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. September 1994.


Despite the imagery projected by popular TV crime dramas, the Department of Justice reports a vast majority of law enforcement agencies in the US are small, understaffed, and underfunded.


Additional challenges noted by rural law enforcement agencies on a 2019 listening tour include (1) increases in crime related to opioids and methamphetamines; (2) difficulties in recruitment; and (3) lack of staff for joint efforts, such as highway drug interdiction teams.


To receive progress updates on the US Department of Justice rural department listening tour, law enforcement agencies are encouraged to email Tawana Elliott.

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