Getting Started with Public Safety Grants

Image: Oscar Rethwill -
Image: Oscar Rethwill –

Public Safety Grant News and Tips by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

If your agency is flush with funding dollars, you can stop reading now. However, if your agency faces the challenge of shrinking budgets coupled with increased responsibilities, the subject of grants and other supplemental funding is probably of interest for you.

Now is the perfect time to start identifying opportunities for the next budget cycle. Finding a grant for which your agency is eligible and that also meets your needs can be one of the most difficult steps in your funding process.

The following outlines some key tips on how to get started.


Use the Web sites above to locate available funding. Doing your research and knowing which grants will be available in the coming year will assist your agency in planning and budgeting to maximize your resources. For example, if you know that there is no grant funding allocated for vehicles, you can look for grants to fund other agency needs, hopefully freeing up money in your budget for vehicles.

Assess your needs

Since many grants will fund multiple tasks or projects, you will need to conduct a needs assessment to prioritize your agency’s needs.

For instance, if you must choose between a drug treatment and enforcement program and a crime victim and witness program, both may be allowed with JAG funding. Your needs assessment will help decide which program is more pressing. Knowing that a foundation or corporation such as State Farm may fund one of the programs also could help you to obtain both using multiple sources. Planning and research are essential to a good grant strategy for your agency.

A needs assessment can be as simple as your agency identifying the most critical needs in terms of equipment and programs within the agency and compiling al list of these in order of priority or a more formal risk and needs assessment using FEMA and Homeland Security.

Meet the requirements

Once you have found a grant, you need to review closely the Request for Proposal (RFP), or guidelines for applying, and develop an outline that details the critical information required. Each grant is different, so it is essential that you pay careful attention to the guidelines for each proposal.

Almost 50 percent of grant proposals are dismissed outright or ultimately unsuccessful because the writer did not follow the guidelines outlined in the RFP. Some examples would include simple errors such as failure to include all the documents required by the RFP such as the Disclosure of Lobbying Activities and Assurances, not following the font and size requirements, or missing a required signature.

Other problems occur in not addressing all the stated goals and objections required by the RFP, or requesting low priority items, failure to itemize your cost, not providing an adequate problem statement, and simply not checking your figures to insure they all add up and balance.

Common reasons grants get declined

1. Failure to follow directions

a. Read the information thoroughly. Go to the workshops. Read and highlight the guidelines in the RFP.
b. Pay attention to deadlines as well as how the grant application has to arrive and where.
c. Use proper formatting as stated and do not exceed page limitations.

2. Requesting too many items

a. No ‘shopping cart’ approach. Remember ‘needy, not greedy!’
b. The items you request should be in line with the size of your department and your service area.
c. It is advisable to keep the number of items to 3-4 per application. If you must, break the program up into phases and complete it as such, with several grants.

3. Failure to itemize your costs
a. If you request equipment, make sure you shop for the best price. Then spell it out clearly: 10 Units at $100 for a total cost of $1,000.
b. Don’t forget about training costs.
c. Administrative costs.
d. Travel costs to attend training or to take delivery of equipment.
e. Shipping costs.
f. Service and maintenance costs or extended warranties.

4. Not making your case on a cost-benefit basis

a. You must show that the dollars expended produce the largest benefit to your agency and to the surrounding community. Remember to address the ‘triumvirate’ of us, we, and them.
b. It is imperative to include mutual aid situations and interagency cooperation. Include the other agencies in your plans, and show that your receipt of the equipment helps other jurisdictions and the community at large.
c. Biggest bang for the buck!

5. You didn’t provide an adequate problem description

a. You have to provide a ‘state of the community and my department’ statement.
b. Describe in detail why you are having the problem.
c. Who, What, When, Where and Why
d. You are an artist painting a picture with words; you must immerse the reviewer into your community and its problems.

6. You didn’t shop around for the lowest prices

a. The Federal minimum guideline says that you should obtain two quotes. Remember to follow your local procurement policies and procedures.
b. Don’t ask for a Cadillac if a VW will do the job.
c. Reviewer’s hate ‘greedy’ departments. If you raise the ‘greedy flag,’ you will be denied or rejected. The request must be reasonable for your department and the problem you are asking for assistance with.

7. Not making a compelling case of financial need

a. You have to make a strong argument that you cannot afford to fund this activity (e.g., tax referendums were defeated, businesses moved out, bad crop years, etc.) State what funding events you tried and what success levels you attained, or didn’t attain. If you have applied before, say that you have done so and that although you have not been able to budget it in, you still have a great need for the equipment.
b. Keep your request in line with your agency size, personnel and the community you service.
c. They must know you are attempting to handle the problem yourselves, but are not able to keep pace.

8. Failing to check your work in the document

a. Do all your figures agree?
b. Have you left out an important detail?
c. Do you have spelling errors?
d. Have it proofread professionally before you push the submit button.

9. The grant fails to encourage collaborative efforts and interagency cooperation

a. Make sure you include this element in your grant. It will give you higher scores.
b. Place the header or sub header ‘Interagency Interoperability’ so it gets noticed.
c. Show that the stakeholders were involved in the process or that their concerns are being addressed.

10. You requested items which are low priority

a. Request items specifically stated to be receiving a high priority and stay away from the lower priority items.
b. Mixing higher priorities with lower priorities lowers your total overall score.

11. They ran out of money!

a. Too many applicants.
b. Not enough funding.
c. If you feel there isn’t anything wrong with your application, update it and resubmit next year.

Since each RFP is different and has its specific requirements becoming familiar with these guidelines from the very beginning makes the process run more quickly and smoothly and allows for a more successful outcome.

You should begin by reading the RFP several times, taking notes and/or highlighting specific requirements and deadlines. Use highlighters in multiple colors to help you take note of the required information if that is helpful

Basic questions that you need to answer based on information addressed in the RFP include:

  1. Is my organization eligible to apply? If you have a question about your agency’s eligibility, call the program contact and ask. You never want to invest time and resources in applying for funding only to discover that your agency was not eligible.
  2. What are the restrictions?
  3. How many grants will be awarded? Look at how many awards will be given and try to determine how many agencies may apply or have applied in the past. If only a small number of grants will be awarded for a given pool of money, your chances of getting that grant are greatly reduced. You may want to consider pursuing a different funding opportunity.
  4. What is the average monetary size of the grant? Will the award amount be large enough to fulfill your agency’s needs?
  5. Is my agency willing or able to comply with the rules of the RFP? Will you need to complete an evaluation of the program’s impact or effectiveness? Does your department or agency have the needed resources to meet any matching dollar requirements?
  6. What is the project period, or when does the grant begin and end?
  7. Who is the contact person to answer questions, and how do I contact that person?
  8. If funded, is there a possibility of continuing funding after the award period expires?
  9. Is there an application kit or package? The vast majority of federal grants use an on-line or E-grants application now.
  10. What is the proposal/application deadline?
  11. The individual preparing the application should be aware of this date and any other subsequent dates outlined in the RFP process in order to qualify and meet the deadlines.

Finding applicable grants or other funding for your agency is half the battle. Following the steps outlined above will put you well on your way.

We encourage any department or agency that is considering writing a grant to check our website for a listing of available grants as well as grant writing training classes.