The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced that it would give St. Paul a $3.75 million grant over three years to help hire 30 new police officers, months after Chief Todd Axtell implored city officials for more funding to address staffing shortages in his department.

Minnesota's capital city was one of 183 local governments in the country selected to receive COPS Hiring Program awards, a flagship of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services launched by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

For three years, the grants fund a portion of new hires' salaries and benefits — up to $41,666 per officer per year — and cities cover the remaining expenses. Agencies must then use local or state funding to retain those hires for at least a year after they stop receiving the federal supplement.

"I am grateful that the Department of Justice views the St. Paul Police Department as an agency worthy of this level of investment," Axtell said in an interview Thursday. "What this money allows us to do is to maintain the number of officers that I believe we need on the streets year-round to provide the best level of service to our community, to help us build trust and relationships, and to support victims of crime."

He added that the additional staff could help officers "have a much better work-life balance" and reduce St. Paul's overtime expenses, which last year were nearly $3 million higher than they were in 2019, according to a department budget presentation.

Nationwide, the grants will help fund the hiring of more than 1,000 officers, according to a Justice Department news release, which said the agency received requests for nearly 3,000 positions. President Joe Biden requested an additional $300 million for the program in 2022 as departments continue to grapple with pandemic-fueled budget cuts and national calls to reduce police funding.

St. Paul would be on the hook for $43,333 per officer annually to match the grant over the next three years, police spokesperson Steve Linders said. That would require the City Council to allocate more money to St. Paul police than what Mayor Melvin Carter proposed for 2022, Axtell said.

Carter proposed spending $120.8 million, about 17% of the city's overall budget, on police in 2022. In September, Axtell asked the council for $3.1 million more, which he says will help keep the force close to its sworn strength of 619 throughout the year.

Carter declined a request for an interview Thursday. His communications director, Peter Leggett, did not say whether the mayor planned to accept the grant or if he would support allocating matching city funds to pay officers' salaries and benefits. St. Paul previously has received federal COPS awards.

"We are always looking for ways to leverage outside funds in support of our comprehensive, coordinated and data-driven approach to public safety," Leggett said in a statement. "The mayor looks forward to learning more about the opportunities and obligations created by this grant."

A majority of the council's seven members have said they would like to fund a second academy of police hires in 2022, in addition to the 63 recruits currently scheduled to wrap up training in July. Police estimated the department will be down 81 officers by the end of the year.

"Our cops are stressed and exhausted. Accepting the grant should be a no-brainer," Council Member Jane Prince said Thursday.

Cities typically have 45 days to accept the federal grants, according to the COPS website.

The council is slated to vote on the city's final budget in early December.

"I would support adding whatever we need to ensure that we can accept the grant," said Council Member Rebecca Noecker. "It seems to me like it's good financial sense."