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More police officers across the nation will be eligible to buy homes for half price and get reduced mortgage rates to boot, if they are willing to move into low-income neighborhoods where crime often is a problem.

Vice President Al Gore announced an expansion of the "Officer Next Door" program, run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to include 1,000 more police officers in its second year. The program began in 1997, and more than 2,000 police officers have taken advantage of the chance to buy a house at a reduced mortgage rate in areas HUD deems poor and has targeted for special funding.

Any law enforcement officer employed by federal, state, county or municipal agencies is eligible for the bargain homes, which have been foreclosed on by HUD. The goal of the program is to revitalize troubled neighborhoods and reduce crime. Officers can live where they work The theory is that if a police officer lives in a neighborhood, there's a better chance that crime rates will go down. Because the program is only a year old, there is no data to show whether police officers living in a specific neighborhood have had any marked effect. "It's good for law enforcement officers, good for our communities, and good for our economy," Gore said. "It allows officers who walk on the beat to live on the beat." HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo said the home deals also allow police officers to own homes -- something not always easy for officers with low incomes. "Officers who put their lives on the line every day safeguarding the American dream should have the ability to live it themselves," Cuomo said. More than 50 banks and the Federal Housing Authority, a branch of HUD, are offering the special mortgages.

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