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A bipartisan bill working through Congress seeks to help small police departments buy gear and pay hiring and retention bonuses — a bill that the congressman whose district straddles coastal North County and Orange County is co-sponsoring.

Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, joined the presidents of the Carlsbad police union and the state’s largest police labor organization Friday outside Carlsbad Police Department to express support for the bill, dubbed the Invest to Protect Act.

The bill would authorize $50 million a year for a new grant program to help police departments with fewer than 200 officers, such as Carlsbad, El Cajon, Escondido, La Mesa and National City.

“If we want to make law enforcement better, defunding is not the answer,” Levin said. “The grant funding in this bill represents the kinds of investments we could be making in our police.”

The funding may be used to cover a wide swath of expenses, including de-escalation and domestic violence response training. It could also pay for body-worn cameras and storage of the digital footage and for mental health resources for officers, Levin said.

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It could also cover the cost of hiring and retention bonuses.

Carlsbad Police Officers Association President Jim Willis said that city’s Police Department would benefit from the retention money. He said nearly two-thirds of Carlsbad’s rank-and-file officers have been with the department fewer than five years.

“This high turnover rate here locally is devastating,” Willis said. “When we lose these veteran officers, we lose the institutional knowledge developed over years on the job — that knowledge specific to the community that can’t be trained. It’s something that comes with years of experience.”

Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, called the bill “a meaningful piece of bipartisan legislation.”

“With the challenges our state and nation are facing today as a result of rising crime and violence, investments in our local law enforcement agencies are needed now more than ever,” Marvel said.

Levin said he’d like the bill to expand to include slightly larger agencies, perhaps those with up to 300 officers. Doing so would make departments like Oceanside — which has 207 sworn officers — eligible for the money. Chula Vista, too, since it has a little more than 250 officers.

According to Levin, H.R. 6448 has backing from about 20 Republicans and 36 Democrats in the House. An equivalent bill is working through the Senate.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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