– Executive Summary –

The latter part of the 20th century saw exponential growth in programs designed to provide federal cash and resource aid to states and other government entities. The 1960s marked the most substantial growth as the administration under President Lyndon Johnson sought to expand these programs nationwide, resulting in well over 100 programs supporting local activities, including education and housing, across the nation.[1] The last three decades have seen the most prolific growth in grant funding for public safety in the name of materializing the nation’s efforts “to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks.”[2]

These programs have grown into annual spending totals of nearly $2 billion in fiscal year 2021, spanning hundreds of grants to “help prepare our nation against man-made threats and natural disasters.”[3] The principal source of funding to state and local law enforcement is the Homeland Security Grant Program, which comprises the State Homeland Security Program and the Urban Areas Security Initiative.[4]

This relative ease in purchasing “stuff” creates several problems with far-reaching implications for public safety leadership and its public, including police militarization and a lack of standardization. To begin with, grants have boosted police militarization, in terms of culture, training, and equipment, which is antithetical to the concept of public service and to the trust necessary for effective community-based policing.[5]

This thesis answers two questions:

  1. To what extent do gaps in the public safety grant funding processes contribute to unintended uses, including the increased militarization of police?
  2. What role can the communities play in filling the identified gaps, and can public engagement impact the implementation of grant-funded equipment in our communities?

I explore the correlation between the militarization of the police through federal grant programs and the requirement to have more inclusive processes that encourage and incentivize agencies to engage with the public on matters of community needs, safety, and privacy and to match public safety capabilities to those needs.

In addition, the intent is to highlight gaps in the process, the absence of oversight measures, and necessary accountability in all grant processes that contribute to the ease of access to equipment. Notably, while much of the literature on grants suggests the need for increased government oversight, the underlying purposes and value of grants to both the state and federal governments do not lend to these recommendations’ becoming reality. The concept of providing effective public safety is rooted in the idea that the public should recognize the value of not only public safety practitioners but also the services they provide.

This thesis consists largely of an in-depth policy analysis. First, it examines the origins of grants used by public safety. This examination highlights the multi-level political strategies that “grants-in-aid” facilitate and how these impact the accountability and oversight measures required as part of the grant award process. I also conduct a comparative examination of the grant process at the federal, state, local, and municipality level, illustrating how and why certain grants are pursued.

The research also delves into the benefits of the “crowd,” not only for identifying the best uses for grants dollars but also for filling gaps in oversight and accountability that government entities are challenged to do themselves.


[1] Robert P. Inman, “Federal Assistance and Local Services in the United States: The Evolution of a New Federalist Fiscal Order,” Working Paper No. 2283 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1987).

[2] Department of Homeland Security, “Notice of Funding Opportunity: Fiscal Year 2021 Homeland Security Grant Program” (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, 2021), https://www.fema.‌gov/sites/default/files/documents/FEMA_FY2021-HSGP-NOFO_02-19-21.pdf.

[3] “DHS Announces Funding Allocations for FY 2021 Preparedness Grants,” Homeland Security Today, July 16, 2021, https://www.hstoday.us/industry/grants-funding/dhs-announces-funding-allocations-for-fy-2021-preparedness-grants/.

[4] “Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP),” Department of Homeland Security, August 9, 2021, https://www.dhs.gov/homeland-security-grant-program-hsgp.

[5] Peter B. Kraska, “Militarization and Policing—Its Relevance to 21st Century Police,” Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice 1, no. 4 (2007): 503, https://doi.org/10.1093/police/pam065. The concept of militarization involves “a set of beliefs, values, and assumptions that stress the use of force and threat of violence as the most appropriate and efficacious means to solve problems.” Regarding law enforcement, Kraska describes militarization as “the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model.”

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