Administration officials are to begin work Monday to determine how much federal funding the government has in hand to assist the Police Department — and whether grant money earmarked for one purpose can be reprogramed to another.
Roy Frett, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Charles Turnbull, told the Source he would meet Monday with Police Commissioner Franz Christian, Law Enforcement Planning Commission director Wayne Chinnery, and LEPC and Government House finance officials.
"The unions are getting on the radio, and they have false hope that we have tons of money," Frett said. For that reason he wants to track the available funds slowly and methodically.
An informed police contact has told the Source a total of $10,078,842 is available in unspent active grants and pending subgrants to the Police Deparement.
The governor and the commissioner met Jan. 25 to discuss problems plaguing the Police Department. At that meeting, officials raised the possibility of using federal funds programmed for other police purposes to address some current needs.
"We're going to the source, LEPC, to get the amounts, to try and determine exactly what money was spent in what categories," Frett said Friday.
After the Jan. 25 meeting, Government House chief of staff Juel Molloy said there could be as much as $10 million in unspent federal funds waiting to be uncovered. Frett said an initial report was received Jan. 27 from LEPC, "but it's not detailed enough. The report just gave balances. Grants have subgrants, and when we saw balances it didn't say which subgrants had been spent."
According to Jessica Robinson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department's COPS (Community Oriented Policing Service) program, the Virgin Islands has been approved for $9.27 million in hiring and community programing grants and subgrants since 1995. The grants provide for hiring a total of 72 new police officers. To date, the informed police source said, 29 have been hired.
Figures provided by Robinson appear to confirm what local officials have said about unspent money. One federal redeployment grant, designed to replace desk-bound police with civilian hires in order to free up more officers for community services, was an $838,419 allotment in 1996 that appears to have been renewed twice.
Robinson said that COPS Universal Hiring Program grants are for three years to cover up to 75 percent of the salary and benefits of new police officers up to a maximum of $75,000 per person.
"You don't just spent our grants immediately," she explained. "It takes time."
She said grants distributed over a period of years are held in an account that can be drawn upon as individuals enrolled in the programs achieve different stages of training and development.
Frett said figuring out the subgrant maze will require a case-by-case determination of where funds came from and which agencies they went to. He said federal money administered through LEPC can be distributed to the Police, Education and Human Services departments and the Attorney General's Office, among other entities.
LEPC operates under the auspices of the Police Department for budgetary purposes, Chinnery said, its function being "to act as a clearinghouse for law-enforcement grants."
The commission is also the designated "state" agency under the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance, Chinnery said. Robinson said that bureau is a separate entity from COPS in the department and she had no information on any grants that might have come to the territory from there.
The Police Department also receives federal funds from the Interior Department. Under Interior's Crime Prevention and Control Initiation Grant program, the Virgin Islands received $197,218 in 1996 to hire five police officers trained to assist victims and witnesses of domestic violence.
VIPD is also eligible for BYRNE grants, commonly used to fund juvenile-justice initiatives.
If and when administration officials find their way to the bottom line in the police federal funding bureaucracy, they will face the question of whether they can get approval to reprogram unspent funds for hiring and other designated purposes to provide training, acquire equipment and address other operational needs.
COPS records show the following grants to the Virgin Islands since April 1995:
– $881,341 to hire 13 officers under the AHEAD program.
– $197,218 to address domestic violence.
– three grants of $180,624, $838,419 and $46,935 to redeploy a total of 42.6 desk-bound police officers. Robinson explained that this can entail hiring civilians to handle office jobs and "buying technology — such as laptop computers for use in patrol cars so that officers don't have to go back to headquarters to file their reports."
– a renewal of $538,734 of a previous grant, unspecified.
– $149,788 under the Problem Solving Partnership program.
– $30,168 under the TROOP program to hire personnel recently discharged from military service.
– three grants of $1,321,305, $1,460,445.60 and $1,950,000 to hire a total of 59 officers.
The total number of new police hires funded comes to 72. If just 29 have been hired, most of the grant money for those purposes should remain unspent.
According to the informed police source, the following amounts in federal funds administered through LEPC remained unspent as of Jan. 24:
(1) Direct police grants from the U.S. Department of Justice:
COPS Universal Hiring Program, $4 million
COPS redeployment program, $2,209,352 from 1996 and $220,000 from 1995
(A subtotal of $6,429,352)
(2) Pending subgrants from LEPC:
Computerized criminal cross matching, $103,048
Local law enforcement, $1.8 million (through 9/30/01)
Community Development Block Grant funds:
Bulletproof vests $128,280 (through 7/31/00)
Local law enforcement $1,210,000
Vehicles, equipment, supplies, fuel, maintenance and 3 personnel for maintenance
(A subtotal of $3,461,328)
Totaling the active police grants and pending subgrants gives $10,078,842.
While COPS grants have "finish" dates, Robinson said, it is not uncommon for these to be extended upon request of the recipient agency with appropriate documentation to support the request. However, she said, from the perspective of COPS, grant funds may be used only for the purposes specified in the grant. She said she couldn't comment on whether there might be ways for exceptions to be made.