Boys and their toys: cops spend millions on useless junk If you seriously think that we can’t cut billions from the federal budget, you are living in dreamland. This Hearst report is about one little state, one little program. Expand that to all fifty states, and all our spending, and tell me I’m wrong.
Can coffee cups and camcorders make us safer?
Even as the recent arrest of a Bridgeport man in connection with the failed Times Square bombing has brought a new focus on terror, a Hearst Connecticut Newspapers review shows state and local officials across Connecticut have parlayed an unending stream of federal homeland security money into a bonanza of “free” items. They include meals by the hundreds, dozens of SUVs, logo-embossed coffee cups, flat-screen televisions, camcorders, bullhorns, business cards, pricey power boats and a “deluxe” portable restroom.
Lt. Gov. Mike Fedele, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, spent $15,000 to produce an edition of his cable access talk show, “Open Mike,” on homeland security. Gov. M. Jodi Rell‘s administration used $50,000 to help fund a 2008 Connecticut Public Television documentary on volunteerism.
Connecticut’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has received at least $182.5 million in federal homeland security money between 2002 and 2010.
“Billions have been spent by the federal government in the name of homeland security, and chunks of that cash have gone to each of the 50 states and hundreds of localities,” the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity concluded in a recent report on homeland security spending.
“Government auditors say that even now the Department of Homeland Security can’t gauge how much the grants have made America safer,” the nonpartisan organization’s report said.
Scott DeVico, spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, defended the purchases, saying the money has made Connecticut safer and better prepared for a disaster.
He cited the recent failed bombing attempt, pointing out that state agencies were quickly notified by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force as events unfolded through a “fusion center” created with federal money that allows local, state and federal agencies to share intelligence. “Communications continued with our New York counterparts throughout the incident and continue today,” he said.
The federal program initially focused on providing equipment and training to enhance security and help communities respond during a terrorism attack. But the program’s mission soon expanded.
The federal Department of Homeland Security now provides grants to purchase just about anything that could be considered useful during a disaster, such as a hurricane, flood, major accident, explosion or unforeseen event.
What the money bought
Hearst Newspapers found that some of the state’s purchases were clearly aimed at terrorism, such as Geiger counters, gas detectors, protective clothing and medical supplies. But other items represented more routine purchases, such as coffee cups, educational television programs, SUVs, copy machine toner, office supplies and Blackberry phones. Some probably would have been bought anyway with local or state funds.
The review found only one item that was consistently rejected by state officials — business cards. Still, two boxes of cards for homeland security staffers, costing $33, did get through the state’s approval process.
“We missed that one,” said Peter Matos, a fiscal officer for procurement for the state homeland security department, which reviews applications from towns and cities and state departments.
Here are a few of the purchases approved by the state:
The Connecticut Intelligence Center in 2007 bought 288 coffee mugs, with an eight-color emblem on one side, for $1,893. “While we understand that the agency viewed the purchase of the coffee mugs as a public education tool, Governor Rell believes we need to look for better ways to spend those funds in the future,” a spokesman for the governor said Friday.
Winchester, a town of 10,716 in Litchfield County, received a $12,559 high-tech remote video surveillance system. It was recently used to monitor rowdy teenagers at a town beach.
Stafford received a $343 60-inch projection screen and a $1,044 color printer.
Bridgeport in 2008 received a $300,000 fireboat that’s capable of discharging 1,450 gallons per minute onto a burning boat or shoreline structure.
Milford gained two animal transport trailers valued at a cost of more than $22,000, and a $336,000 “live fire shoot house” for police training. The facility, purchased for the region, features custom-built rubber walls and allows officers to fire live bullets at fake targets. “They bought that with homeland money?” State Police Lt.Timothy Kradas, a grants administration officer for the state Department of Public Safety, asked. “The state police don’t even have one.”