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  • D.C. Police Special Report

  •   D.C. Police Fail to Use $11 Million

    By Avis Thomas-Lester
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, March 24, 1998; Page B01

    The D.C. police department failed to spend more than $11 million in grant money and other funds provided to the beleaguered force last year even as some officers went without equipment and residents complained about poor service.

    An examination of records provided by the department shows it spent only $17.4 million of the $25.7 million in grants it had for use in fiscal 1997, leaving $8.3 million unused. The department was forced to return nearly $1 million of the unspent money to grantors, according to department records.

    In addition, the department did not spend $2.4 million it received in donations and income derived from services D.C. police provided to other agencies. An additional half-million dollars remained from the department's municipal budget allocation, the records show. The department's overall budget last year was $271 million.

    According to department records, the unspent funds include:

    $4.2 million of a $15 million grant awarded by Congress after then-Chief Larry D. Soulsby lobbied lawmakers for $42 million in 1996, saying the department needed an array of new equipment, including patrol cars and computers, to meet basic standards.

    $2 million of a $5.9 million grant from the Justice Department for community policing.

    $1 million from seizures made in narcotics cases, to be used in education, training and general law enforcement.

    $423,314 in funds from police auctions, to be used for general law enforcement.

    $325,762 of $864,345 given by the FBI for drug interdiction programs.

    $291,150 for traffic enforcement.

    $285,000 of a $300,000 Justice Department grant for criminal investigations by the homicide division, and $150,393 of a $250,000 Justice grant for investigations by other divisions.

    $102,270 from a Justice Department grant for a public information kiosk.

    Interim D.C. Police Chief Sonya T. Proctor did not respond to a request for an interview about the unspent funds. But Assistant Chief Michael J. Fitzgerald attributed some of the spending delays to the department's slow procurement system.

    Scott Quehl, the department's acting chief financial officer, who is in charge of overseeing grants, said grant money often is so severely restricted that it can be used only for very specific purposes. Without offering details, he defended the department's handling of grant money.

    "As financial managers, we are helping the Metropolitan Police Department identify more resources for its officers and the District's communities, as well as spend the resources it has to meet the department's priorities," Quehl said.

    Police officials said some spending has been delayed because matching new equipment with existing infrastructure has been difficult. Quehl said that $2.4 million of the unspent cash from last year has been "committed" to homicide unit equipment, vehicle purchases and information technology.

    Capitol Hill sources familiar with the police department's grants disputed the assertion that the grant money is highly restricted. They said the spending guidelines in the $15 million congressional grant allowed the purchase of items including squad cars, bulletproof vests, cameras, computers, motorcycles and even supplies and furnishings for the city's seven police districts -- needs drawn directly from a list Soulsby provided.

    Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said controls over grant spending haven't improved since Mayor Marion Barry was forced to cede significant control of the police department to the D.C. financial control board and other officials more than a year ago.

    "The congressman feels this would indicate the problem belongs to none other than the control board," he said. "The control board has been given the power to depoliticize [the department's financial situation] but has done little to fix it."

    John W. Hill Jr., the control board's executive director, said the board has "recognized a need to accelerate the use of these funds and not to have so many of these funds carry over." He said the department's handling of grant money is being reviewed by a team of staff members from the control board and from a committee called the "memorandum of understanding," or MOU, partners -- a group of elected officials and public-safety specialists who help oversee the police department.

    "The MOU partners identified the problem with grant spending because we were getting phone calls from the Department of Justice saying that funds were not being used," Hill said.

    Hughes said that Taylor "fought" for an investigation by the D.C. inspector general into the police department's finances but that his effort was opposed by some District officials.

    Quehl said that the unspent $4.2 million of the congressional grant has rolled over into this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, and that much of the leftover funds will be used for "information technology," a catch phrase for upgrading some of the department's computer systems. He said the poor quality of the existing infrastructure has made the upgrading process complex.

    Although much of the unspent money has rolled over into this budget year, failure to spend the funds may not be without consequences, watchdogs warned. If grantors see funds go unused, they may be discouraged from awarding funds in the future, the activists said. And in other cases, additional funds could have been obtained this year if last year's money had been spent promptly, they said.

    "My anger at this is that you have a District government and a Metropolitan Police Department which we knew had not been applying for all the federal grant dollars it was eligible for," said Dorothy Brizill, executive director of D.C. Watch, a citizens group that has looked into the grant expenditures. "Now we also find that it has not spent one-third of the grant money it got."

    The police department is one of several city agencies that have suffered from poor management of grants. Two weeks ago, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Anthony A. Williams, whose office oversees part of the police department's grants program, asked the city's director of grants management, Sandra "Sam" Manning, to resign. Williams appointed a new official, Norman Dong.

    Tom Blagburn, a former D.C. police administrator who retired two years ago and whose office brought in $500,000 in grants each year for use in combating youth violence and other problems, said grants go unspent because "there is a lack of accountability."

    "Everybody is pointing the finger at everybody else for culpability, and nobody is responsible for spending it," Blagburn said. "You talk to people -- citizens -- who are in need of all kinds of support and programs and services from the police and they try to get it, and the people who are in charge of the funds have an attitude of whatever happens, happens. . . . No one is working to see that those funds are spent as they should be spent."

    Meanwhile, D.C. police officers have complained bitterly that they are hampered in their efforts to fight crime because they lack basic equipment.

    Homicide detectives, who last summer were transferred to poorly equipped offices in the city's seven police districts when their unit was decentralized, were sent back to D.C. police headquarters this month without enough desks and other equipment.

    The detectives buy their own business cards, and many use their own cars to get to crime scenes. The computerized crime information systems they use in their efforts to apprehend criminals are antiquated.

    This year, the department has a budget of $272 million, including $12 million in grants. Yet Jacqueline Barnes, commander of the city's 2nd District in Northwest Washington, recently went to a community meeting and presented a list of items and supplies -- including radar equipment, fax machines and bicycles -- that she said were needed by her police district.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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