The College Park City Council voted Tuesday to increase home ownership grants for some of the city’s police officers, volunteer and full-time firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
The New Neighbor Home Ownership Grant Program was created in 2005 to increase the number of owner-occupied homes in College Park.
Under the program, police, EMTs, University of Maryland graduate students and full-time and volunteer firefighters — among other residents — are eligible for a grant toward single family homes, townhouses or condominiums within the city if they agree to be owner-occupants for five consecutive years.
With the council’s 7-1 vote, the grant amount for police officers purchasing a single-family residence went from $5,000 to $15,000. The grant amount for purchasing a residence that was previously a rental property went from $10,000 to $20,000.
The grant increase will also apply to firefighters and EMTs as per an amendment by District 3 council member John Rigg at Tuesday’s meeting.
The grant increase, which applies to all officers in departments with College Park under their jurisdiction, is an effort to combat severe understaffing across the Prince George’s County Police Department and the University of Maryland Police Department, according to city planning and community development director Miriam Bader. The Prince George’s County Police Department has more than 300 open positions, Bader said.
“I had a prior career as a full time paramedic firefighter and still volunteer in the state,” Rigg said. “I know that volunteer programs and especially Prince George’s County Fire Department are really hurting for staff, as well.”
District 3 council member Stuart Adams, who supported the grant increase, said police officers’ public service and College Park residents’ calls for more police involvement mean an increase is warranted.
“Many have dedicated their lives to public service,” Adams said. “As we look at our city survey … the number one request from residents is increased public safety.”
The council’s move drew opposition from city residents and University of Maryland students.
Sophomore government and politics and history major Trevor Hennebery said he believes police officers should not be included in the grant increase, adding that resources should go to other areas.
“I get almost daily alerts in my email regarding different crimes that have taken place on and off campus.” Hennebery said. “But there are better ways we can deal with this crime, we can invest in programs that reduce crime before it happens.”
Junior government and politics major Logan Mitchell testified at the meeting that many students he knows at this university have unfavorable opinions of local police.
“I have heard my fellow students describe UMPD and PGPD as ‘useless’ and ‘a waste of tax dollars,’” Mitchell said. “The impression that I have gotten is they are unable to prevent even small and minor crimes from taking place.”
College Park resident Aubrey Batten said there is a lack of transparency about the grant program from the city. Batten added that instead of providing grants, College Park should create its own police department to recruit more officers for the city.
A 2018 study by The Police Foundation said police oversight in College Park would improve if officers in the city reported directly to a city command instead of a county command.
District 4 council member Denise Mitchell said though she supports the idea, the city does not have the financial resources to create its own force.
Jacob Hernandez, a College Park resident who is vying for a District 1 city council seat in next month’s city election, said the council should expand the grant guidelines so teachers are also eligible for the increased amount.
District 2 council member Llatetra Brown Esters said she supports considering teachers in the future, but Tuesday’s discussion should focus on “public servants.”
According to District 1 council member Alan Hew, having more police officers in the city would be beneficial overall.
“They are always at service to us,” Hew said. “They have been living in our community [and] the work they do, the services they provide is part of offering them [this incentive.]”