Law-Enforcement Training Course Raises Red Flags in Montgomery County

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A MONTGOMERY County program intended to help employees get education and training appears to have been misused by a number of public safety personnel. Since 2007, workers from the police, corrections and sheriff's departments have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in county tuition assistance to attend training courses offered by Applied Sciences for Public Safety LLC, a company that has employed at least five current police officers as instructors and consultants, according to county records. The company has collected as much as $1,600 from employees for courses of dubious value; at the same time, it has offered those who enroll a chance to purchase deeply discounted firearms.

Far from enhancing the skills of public safety officers, the courses look -- at best -- like a waste of taxpayers' money. Was this merely a means for county employees to obtain cheap guns at public expense? County officials told us Monday that County Attorney Leon Rodriguez will launch an investigation; that probe needs to be aggressive.

Officials learned of the training program late last week, after more than a dozen employees in the sheriff's department applied for tuition assistance to the same Applied Sciences course at about the same time. Sheriff Raymond M. Kight (D) told us that at least 10 deputy sheriffs had attended Applied Sciences courses previously and that two deputy sheriffs stepped forward to say that the courses were substandard. A two-day course cost as much as $1,600, just below the maximum of $1,630 in tuition assistance that county employees could receive in fiscal 2009. According to Mr. Kight, the two deputies left an Applied Sciences course when they were offered the chance to purchase a Glock firearm for $50. Most Glock guns retail for close to $600.

A description we obtained of one Applied Sciences course promises "intensive" training about the "strategy, tactics and weaponology" of a police shootout. But according to Mr. Kight, the two deputies described the courses as less than thorough and sometimes involving paintball games. A Facebook page for Applied Sciences lists three events, including an "Advanced Tactical Flashlight Class." The description for another class reads: "$99 Glock -- Amazing lecture by a leading narcotics officer in the state of Maryland, fun tactical drills and a day of shooting!" A message left Monday afternoon at an Applied Sciences office was not immediately returned.

Seventy-eight employees had already applied for tuition assistance to take an Applied Sciences course in the fiscal year starting July 1, Office of Human Resources Director Joseph Adler said. On Friday, the county froze all pending tuition assistance requests for Applied Sciences courses. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) released the following statement Monday afternoon: "Upon hearing about a question raised concerning this program, the County began an immediate investigation. If tuition assistance is being abused or is inconsistent with County policy, we will terminate participation. If there have been misrepresentations in the course curriculum, the County would seek reimbursement. Any pending applications will be suspended until such time as an investigation is completed and all questions are answered to our satisfaction."

Those sound like the right parameters. Now Mr. Leggett needs to ensure that investigators follow through.

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