Study: Terror funds misspent
OAKLAND – Nevada County was among many government bodies in California that have misspent federal money intended to strengthen security against terrorist threats following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to newspaper investigations published Sunday.
Investigations conducted by The Oakland Tribune and the Daily News of Los Angeles found that officials have used federal anti-terrorism money to purchase equipment and cover police work not directly related to the war on terror.
In Nevada County – which has no potential terrorist targets on a list recently developed by the California Terrorism Information Center – shopping centers received heart defibrillators, according to the newspaper reports.
The newspapers, which conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed government documents obtained under the California Public Records Act, also determined that hundreds of millions of dollars have been disbursed without giving enough consideration to the specific risks and threats facing the state.
As a result, nearly half of California’s security funding through the last fiscal year, about $128 million, went to areas outside the five counties with the state’s top 10 terrorist targets. Almost $8 million flowed to counties with no targets whatsoever.
“They see that the next town over bought a whiz-bang command post vehicle and they want one, too,” said John Miller, head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s counterterrorism bureau. “So, what you are finding in the smaller communities is that there is a duplication of effort where in all likelihood they may never use that equipment or vehicle.”
The Union was unable to contact several county officials for comments about local expenditures of homeland security grant money.
Among the investigation’s findings:
• Even though Alpine County has no terrorist targets, it received 27 times more funding per capita than Los Angeles County, which has 180 state-identified targets.
• San Francisco and Oakland used homeland security money to pay overtime to police anti-war protests even as the National Guard struggled to recoup 10 percent of its costs to patrol the Golden Gate Bridge and other major terrorist targets.
• Sierra County claimed it bought blast/shock-resistant gates, but paid $3,500 for ordinary push-bar doors for the county’s 1950s-vintage courthouse so that people could leave when it was locked after hours.
• Chico police bought traffic cones, a trailer for hauling riot-control gear and about $5,000 worth of surveillance equipment they said could be used to watch terrorist targets. Chico has one such target: Kinder Morgan’s 40-acre oil and gas terminal, not ranked in the top 100 on the state’s target list.
• Sutter County, which has no targets on the list, bulletproofed the lobby of its police station in Yuba City, the county seat, and sank a 10-foot-deep barrier of steel-reinforced concrete pilings in front to stop anyone from ramming the building with a vehicle.
Almost every county without a potential terrorist target has purchased alarm systems, bulletproof windows or crash barricades, as well other items, according to state and federal grant documents.
Part of the problem, officials say, is that many California counties have applied federal money toward equipment to respond to both terrorist acts and more traditional disasters such as earthquakes and fires when it should go solely toward terrorism preparedness.
“A first responder’s job is far more than dealing with the next terrorist attack,” said Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach, who chairs the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. “But a grant program for homeland security should not be all-hazards.”
Exacerbating the situation, there is no national plan with clear performance measures to guide local jurisdictions, experts say.
Although federal spending for homeland security is expected to climb over the next five years to $27 billion, emergency first responders could require as much as four times that amount, experts say. But Congress may not make that available if it determines that state and local officials have spent the funding on needs other than protecting against terrorism, they say.
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