Mark McDermott

RBPD awaits long-delayed stimulus funds

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by Mark McDermott

In July of last year, United State Attorney General Eric Holder began what amounted to a victory tour of various law enforcement agencies who’d been helped by the stimulus money his department had awarded.

The goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had been to put people back to work, and it was working: at that point, 1,046 agencies had been awarded $1 billion in grants that had resulted in the hiring of 4,699 police officers. All totaled, $2.7 billion was allocated in stimulus money for law enforcement.

“I’m proud that our administration backs up our commitment to law enforcement not just with words, but with the resources our partners need,” Holder said at a police cadet graduation ceremony in North Carolina last July.

The Redondo Beach Police Department applied for the so-called JAG (Justice Assistance Grant) money and was awarded $97,785 a year ago February. It wasn’t enough to hire a police officer – the RBPD is down to 96 sworn personnel, down from 106 a decade ago — and the ARRA wasn’t recurring money, anyway.

But Chief Joe Leonardi was nonetheless pleased to finally address another need. The department interviewed and was prepared to hire three part-time employees in its records department, which has been operating short-handed for the better part of this decade – ever since the economic downturn that occurred after 9/11.

“I wanted them to supplement the records clerks we had lost,” Leonardi said.

But then a funny thing happened. The money never came. Other stimulus funds – including $5.2 million allocated for capital improvements – were self-administered by the city and arrived promptly. But the JAG grant was different – the Department of Justice had chosen the City of Los Angeles to administer the funds. Los Angeles began by taking 10 percent off the top as an administrative fee, and then slowly launched a process that included a Memorandum of Understanding with each of the 88 cities it administered and later another detailed legal agreement.

None of the cities will receive the JAG grants until all the cities have completed LA’s extensive process.

“It’s really curious for the City of Los Angeles, known for its bureaucracy, to be funneling this money and taking a fee off the top,” said City Manager Bill Workman. “That was very challenging.”

Leonardi said he doesn’t understand why the JAG grants – which existed prior to the economic stimulus bill, albeit in much smaller amounts – weren’t self-administered, as they were in the past. He said the Obama Administration is the first to require an outside fiscal agent to disperse the grants.

“I’ve sat and listened to how Obama wants to improve the economy and provide jobs,” Leonardi said. “I believe that is what they truly want to do. But what has happened is that has been subverted by the bureaucratic requirements and the process of going through the city of Los Angeles. It would have gone much faster if they’d stayed with the same paradigm and let each city manage its grant.”

Calls to the Department of Justice and the City of Los Angeles were not returned by press time.

Leonardi said that while the RBPD had a great need for the records clerks the grant would allow him to hire, other departments have more dire needs. Cities with higher violent crime rates were awarded amounts that would allow them to hire police officers – Long Beach is due $1.6 million, for example, while Compton’s JAG grant is $800,000, minus administrative fees.

“I’ve sat in meetings where [chiefs] are saying, ‘I don’t know how the rest of you guys in the room feel, but we really need this, and we really need this money to be distributed now, because we are hurting,’” Leonardi said. “They needed to know how long it was going to take. But people take this attitude there is nothing we can do about it, because LA is too big, and the feds are too big.” ER

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