A Friday Metro story about the District's possible loss of $22 million in federal funds for extra police officers incorrectly quoted Kevin Ohlson, chief of staff for Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. The story should have said: When the final letter by the Justice Department was about to be sent, Ohlson said, "it was fortuitous that a person mentioned to Eric [Holder] that a letter was going out that day saying [to the police department], 'You lost these funds.' And Eric said: 'Wait, stop, halt, don't do anything. Let me see if I can get this squared away.' " (Published 01/17/2000)
More than $22 million in federal funds slated mostly for the hiring of new officers for the D.C. police department might have been lost if it weren't for a letter from the Justice Department accidentally falling into the hands of Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. last week, Holder said yesterday.
The money, part of President Clinton's 1994 crime bill that was supposed to put 100,000 new officers on U.S. streets, has always been available to the police department, but it wasn't until this week that police and city officials learned the money might be pulled.
The letter said police officials had failed to meet an October deadline to have officers certified in foreign languages and compensated for the skill as outlined in a spring 1998 agreement.
The Justice Department would have revoked the money earlier this month, but Holder stepped in after he saw the letter and has worked since to keep the money on the table.
"It seemed to me that the steps that needed to be taken were relatively simple ones, and given what was at stake, I just had to do something," Holder said.
In March 1998, members of the Hispanic Police Officers Association settled a civil rights complaint, filed in 1993 with the Justice Department, that outlined eight requirements and gave the D.C. police until Oct. 1, 1999, to meet them or lose the $22 million.
When Justice Department officials learned the police department was well short of fulfilling its requirement on two of the points, they began sending letters, threatening to pull the funds, said Kevin Ohlson, chief of staff for Holder.
Specifically, the Justice Department found that the police department had not instituted a certification program for employees who speak foreign languages--required before employees could be paid a stipend for their skill. Also, not all the 3,500-plus police officers had attended a diversity program--another requirement.
When the final letter by the Justice Department was about to be sent, Ohlson said, "it was gratuitous that a person mentioned to Eric [Holder] that a letter was going out that day saying [to the police department], 'You lost these funds.' And Eric said: 'Wait, stop, halt, don't do anything. Let me see if I can get this squared away.' Then, Eric came up with the idea of meeting with the mayor for the Justice Department to back down."
It wasn't until November that the police department chose the State Department as the agency that would provide the language certification. Since then, 35 employees have been certified, said Bert Ennis, director of human services for the D.C. police.
Erik Christian, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, who met with D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday, said he expected all members of the department to complete the diversity training course by September.
Sgt. Phillip Villanueva, head of the Hispanic Police Officers Association, said yesterday that he had no comment.
Before the October deadline, Ramsey said, he notified the Justice Department that his department wasn't going to make the deadline.
"We made substantial steps to comply and keep them informed," Ramsey said. But sources close to the federal agreement said that in addition to the lack of compliance by the department, Ramsey did not contact Justice Department officials about the holdup.
The Justice Department never actually paid the police $22 million but made the money available for police equipment and new officers, a law enforcement source said. Most of the money was slated for police hires.
"Then, nothing happened," the source said. "That's the problem. And the penalty is not on the Metropolitan Police Department, it's on the public."
Holder and Ohlson said they were told they have only a few weeks to resolve the issue.
Ramsey said yesterday that he was not worried that the grant money would be revoked. "I would hope they would be reasonable," Ramsey said. "The Justice Department should be there to help us, not hurt us."