Grant Was Supposed to Raise Manpower Levels
City Auditor Yovanda Brooks yesterday said that the police department has failed to fill 38 of 136 patrol positions funded by the Federal COPS Universal Hiring Program, a cornerstone of the Clinton administration’s crime program.
Brooks’ report said that 138 extra police officers were to be hired by the Baltimore Police Department with the federal funds, but according to Brooks, only 98 of the positions were filled. The audit also shows that $16,820 of the federal funding was applied to the salaries of officers hired before the date authorized by the program. Brooks also faulted the department for missing the date for filing required financial reports to the federal government, and for overstating the amount it claimed to have spent on the program by $455,788.
The audit, which was issued to the Board of Estimates as part of an annual process, added to the controversy surrounding the Police Department’s sluggish response to the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which will bring the mass retirement of at least 115 officers on July 1. As many as 500 police officers are eligible for the retirement program, which was devised three years ago to slow the outward flow of experienced police officers. The Fraternal Order of Police has estimated that 300 police officers will retire this summer.
City Council President Lawrence A. Bell, III, who presides over the Board of Estimates, said that the auditor’s findings were “one more piece of the puzzle.” In referring to the DROP program, Bell said “we have for months now been asking the police department for a plan.” Earlier this week, Nicholas C. D’Adamo, Jr. (D-lst), the Chairman of City Council’s Committee on Budget and Appropriations, criticized the police department for failing to anticipate the effects of the retirement program.
The Police Department’s response to the audit report was mixed. According to the audit report, police brass admitted that their federal filings were late and that the expenditure amounts were incorrect. The department has credited its account with the Department of Justice by $16,820 as compensation for the amount incorrectly applied to officers hired before the effective date of the program, and said that it will reconcile its reports to the federal agency in May of 1999.
However, the department disputes that it has not hired the stipulated number of police officers under the federal grant. Police spokesman Officer Rob Weinhold said that before the grant was implemented, 300 administrative positions were transferred from police officers to civilians. According to Weinhold, this put more police officers on the street, and therefore accomplished the goals of the federal program. The grant, however, called for 138 officers to be hired “over and above” all officers employed at the grant’s implementation date of October 1,1994.
Weinhold said that the audit’s finding that “the baseline numbers of departmental positions did not go up is justified. There was an existing management strategy, a development plan, that was implemented prior the awarded grant. Therefore, the COPS office accepted that was the reason that the baseline did not rise.”
The federal government has not taken issue with the hiring figures. “This was not our audit,” said Dan Pfiffer of the Department of Justice, “however if we discover something amiss, out first reaction would be to form a partnership with grantee to resolve the issue.”