After the Frank Serpico corruption scandals in the early 1970s, the New York Police Department set up a foundation to accept charitable donations. “We were formed to sort of be a hedge against police corruption,” said Gregg Roberts of the New York City Police Foundation, which was started in 1971, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Over the years we’ve raised over $60 million for hundreds of programs to improve public safety.” The group bought the first bulletproof vests for the city’s police department and today it provides money for everything from harbor boats to bomb-squad robots. The foundation raised more than $7 million last year. It is so successful that dozens of cities around the country have set up similar institutions. St. Paul and Minneapolis are in the process of doing so.
Most cities following the New York model aren’t using their foundations to combat corruption; they’re battling budget deficits. “Major city police departments have a hard time keeping current, especially with technology, given budget constraints,” said Renee Cunningham of the Seattle Police Foundation, which was created in 2000. That group’s goal is to raise $200,000 next year. Foundations are purchasing and donating to their departments everything from million-dollar mobile command centers to drug-sniffing dogs and patrol horses. “It’s been great for our specialized units,” said Kristen Mahoney of the Baltimore Police Department, which has received bomb suits, dogs, and horses from the Baltimore Police Foundation. In Minneapolis, which hopes to create its foundation by February, the money will go for an awards banquet and to buy gym equipment and refrigerators for precinct lunch rooms.