Grant Writing Made Easy: An interview with Pete Gagliardi and Karen Ziegler


Grant writing can be a successful mechanism for local agencies to get much needed funding for equipment or services they might normally never be able to afford.

For many people, though, writing grants can be as about exciting as getting a root canal…. But without the pain killers or Novocain.

However, writing grants doesn’t have to be painful or stressful. Not if you have a plan.

Join speakers Pete Gagliardi, Karen Ziegler, and Stacy Stern for a sponsored workshop, brought to the JCH community by Ultra Electronics Forensic Technology.  Attendees will learn:

  • The mechanics of finding appropriate grants for your organization and its needs,
  • Backtiming the grant writing process so you can ensure you meet all the requirements commonly stated in such grants,
  • The best ways to gain support for your grant from key constituents or leaders. 

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)


Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Clearly you each have a strong history in the justice arena and grant funding – just from different perspectives.  Why do you feel so passionately about empowering law enforcement and other justice-related organizations in the grant writing process?

Karen Ziegler: I have devoted my career to supporting public safety organizations.  I am passionate about the work because I have such a deep appreciation and respect for the dedication and sacrifice that the public safety and criminal justice personnel have for our communities.

My expertise is in finance and grants administration.  If I can help law enforcement agencies get much needed resources through grant funding, they can devote their time to what they do best – protecting our communities.


“In the aftermath of the Great Recession,

more than 85% of police precincts were forced to make budget cuts.

The Fraternal Order of Police estimated as many as 15,000 sworn officer positions were lost as a result of financial constraints.”

“Federal Grants Are a Safety Net for Budget-Strained Law Enforcement Agencies,” Envisage Technologies


Pete Gagliardi: When firearm crimes go unsolved, victims are denied liberty and justice, their families robbed of resolution and closure, and their neighborhoods forsaken peace and stability. Furthermore, the community’s trust in the criminal justice system decreases while the demand for police and quality of these services.

Entire communities soon become victims themselves to the economic costs associated with gun crime; businesses leave and jobs disappear, property values plummet and the tax base erodes. The cost of gun crime to society has been estimated to be in the range of millions to billions of dollars and criminals don’t work within annual government budget allocations.

When the calls come in that people have been shot and killed – the job falls to the police to begin seeking justice for the victims (and perpetrator), resolution for their loved ones and peace for the neighbors.

It will be information that fuels the investigations that will be needed and evidence that powers prosecutions.

An effective response will require a proper balance of three key elements: People – Processes – Technology.

  • People – thinking and acting together executing efficient processes driven by sound policies.
  • Technology can help sustain their processes – speed them up – make them more timely and effective.

When it comes to crimes involving the use of firearms there is a wealth of information and evidence to be found emanating from inside and outside the gun itself.

When properly managed can provide tactical and strategic intelligence of crime solving and prevention value.

  • Inside the gun – the ballistics data in NIBIN – to answer the question: What crimes has this gun been used in?
  • Outside the gun– the make model and serial number for crime gun tracing – to answer the question: Who has been associated with this gun? In addition, there are DNA, Latent prints, and trace evidence such a blood, hairs, and fibers which can also be found on the outside of the gun to help answer the same question as to who.

The comprehensive collection, processing, and dissemination of these inside-outside elements of crime gun intelligence is documented as a best practice as part of a 2012 Resolution adopted by the International Chiefs of Police.

This all takes money.


According to a Florida research study, the average responding agency has 4 grants, averaging $213,000, equaling less than 5% of the agency’s budget. Sixty-nine percent of these grants are federal grants.

John Van Etten, “The Impact of Grants on Police Agencies


While there is a cost to crime there is also a cost to effectively dealing with it – the simple reality that we face is that law enforcing people, their processes and their technology require funding.

The more hopeful message here is that there is funding available to do these things police need to know what’s available and how to get it.



JCH: What are some of the biggest misconceptions or misunderstandings you think Law Enforcement organizations might have about applying for grants? How would you advise or counsel them in the hopes of overcoming these impressions?

Karen: Many law enforcement personnel believe that grants are too competitive and it’s just too hard to search, write and administer a grant.  Their priority is to protect the public and grant writing takes away from these core responsibilities.  This is especially true for smaller organizations where they do not have dedicated staff to manage the administrative duties.

Working for a statewide criminal justice policy organization, I would encourage agencies to work with partners that could help them with grants.

For example, universities and community colleges are great resources for research and data collection.  State Administrative Agencies (SAA) are a central point of contact for many grant opportunities and are willing to provide guidance to local agencies.  If you don’t try, you won’t have a chance to get funded!

Pete: I think many front line operators and mid-level managers feel that getting a grant is something that’s “above their pay grade” and is something that the senior leadership will handle or (not handle) in their own way. My counsel would be – to open lines of communication and collaboration –  in other words – find ways and opportunities to “think and act” together.



JCH: What are the biggest mistakes you see law enforcement organizations making when they apply for grants? 

Pete:  I think the biggest mistake involves a failure to convince the grant reviewers that the project being proposed is:

  1. a) relevant to the intent of the grant,
  2. b) has a high probability of success in terms of positive outcomes and
  3. c) the value of the invested grant monies will be measurable or demonstrable in some way.


My advice would be to:

  1. a) make sure the proposed project is relevant,
  2. b) the probability for success has a basis in research or proven best practices or is something brand new that “will change the rules of the game” or clearly make a currently institutionalized process much more efficient.


Karen: One of the biggest mistakes agencies make is applying for a grant that they are not eligible for receiving.  I tell agencies to read, read, and reread the solicitation to make sure they understand the purpose of the funding and program requirements stated in the solicitation.  Also, follow instructions!  If the solicitation says “not to exceed 12 pages, 12pt font with 1″ margins” do exactly that.

Another common mistake is not tying all the pieces of the application together.  The grant application should tell a story.  What is your problem, how do you intend to address the problem, how much is it going to cost and how are you going to determine if you made an impact?

This sounds pretty straight-forward but when you have multiple staff working on an application, the end result can be choppy and disconnected.


93% of the responding agencies stated their grant partnerships have also improved their relationships with the community.

John Van Etten, “The Impact of Grants on Police Agencies


JCH: One of the biggest “hurdles” for many grant writing agencies is the need for a “research partner” to be included in the grant.  Can you share a bit about who “research partners” are (or who they can be)? What is their role in the grant process? And why should agencies not let this dissuade them from considering applying for grants?

Karen: Research partners are a great resource for grant writing agencies.  In fact, many federal grant opportunities now require a research partner as part of the project team.

An evidence-based program is a project where the research showed that the project produced the desired result. Funding agencies want to know if their money made a difference and if the project can be replicated to impact other communities.

Research partners are typically state universities; however, it doesn’t have to be – community colleges and many non-profit foundations have research arms and are willing to partner with agencies to provide research services.

Evaluation of your project should not dissuade agencies from applying for grants. Sure, agencies want their projects to be successful but sometimes the “lessons learned” are just as valuable. Your research partner can provide the independent analysis to help you understand what worked and what didn’t.


74% of agencies do not find it difficult to locate grants,

62% do not find it difficult to manage grants.

80% are actively pursuing grants.

John Van Etten, “The Impact of Grants on Police Agencies


Pete: Academics and researchers “thirst” for real data and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor to identify what and how it is collected and reported.

Many colleges offer criminal justice programs where there are instructors and students working on advanced degrees requiring research projects. In addition, for many academics – research has become a “second job” providing another source of income.

Bottom line they won’t be hard to find and they will add value to the process. Academics can take the burden of measuring the performance of the project and reporting on its value in a credible and convincing way off the shoulders of the law enforcement team.


JCH: Many times, agency officials feel like they don’t have a chance at getting a grant… or their organization is “too small” … or they might feel like they are simply out of their comfort zone when it comes to writing grants for much needed equipment to solve gun-related crime. Can you share any “success stories” of organizations you know of or have helped through the grant writing process and how their funding helped their organizations achieve their goals?

Karen: I was part of grant writing team for a local police department for a very competitive federal gun violence reduction grant.  This was a national solicitation and there were other cities that had much higher crime numbers than our city.  We all knew it was a long shot but we also felt that we had a strong evidenced-based project, passionate and dedicated stakeholders and an expert research partner.

Our hard work resulted in full funding for the project!  With the additional resources to the department, they were able to implement a project that would not have been possible without federal funding.


67% of responding law enforcement agencies stated their grant funding had had a moderate impact on their agencies or operations;

24% said the grant funding had had dramatic impact.

John Van Etten, “The Impact of Grants on Police Agencies



To view “Grant Writing Made Easy” click here.


Additional Resources
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