March 3, 2002 – The problem of lost and unaccounted-for police weapons hasn't changed much since 1994. Neither has suspicion surrounding the Narcotics Strike Force or the lackadaisical handling of grants by the Law Enforcement Planning Commission.
Police Department missing property
A recent federal audit of Police Department administrative functions, conducted by the Interior Department, found that 68 weapons were not accounted for, and that four of the missing guns were recovered after being used in the commission of crimes.
A 1994 audit, conducted by V.I. Office of Inspector General, determined that 34 firearms were missing, with six of the weapons later identified as having been used in crimes.
In his response to the federal audit manager, Arnold VanBeverhoudt, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said the territory's system for collecting and disposing of evidence was complex and would take "additional time and resources" to sort out.
Along with weapons, the federal auditors determined that uniforms, police badges, handcuffs and evidence also were missing.
On St. Croix, firearms and ammunition were found stored on open shelves. On St. Thomas, inventories of crime evidence were neither complete nor accurate. And there was little uniformity in the operation of the St. Croix and St. Thomas property rooms.
The St. Thomas property room had been located in an abandoned building, formerly the main police station, while property storage rooms were being prepared at the recently refurbished Alexander Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex. Police moved from the dilapidated Zone A Command facilities on Norre Gade into the renovated space at the Farrelly complex last June.
To test the accountability for crime evidence, auditors sampled 92 items, 37 on St. Croix and 55 on St. Thomas. All of the St. Croix items were accounted for. On St. Thomas, 19 items, including 14 firearms, were not found.
The Police Department also lost $54,500 in federal grant money because 200 bulletproof vests that were ordered with the grant were the wrong size and were therefore unusable. The vendor accepted the return of 96 vests, but the remaining 104 had to be given to other law-enforcement agencies. The audit did not say if there were 104 officers without vests as a result of what the auditors called "poor planning."
Strike Force strikes out
The audit, conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General, criticized the Narcotics Strike Force, which has been under the purview of the Police Department since November 1999, for the "questionable" use of $206,854 out of $572,000 in funds slated for confidential and undercover operations.
Included in the "used for questionable purposes" column was $149,790 spent by former Strike Force officials and the former director of the agency to rent residential property on all three islands, purportedly for undercover operations.
The property on St. John was rented for seven months from a relative of a police officer to the tune of $10,000 and was used as a "vacation home" for agency officials, the report said.
On St. Thomas, two residences were leased for a year, each at a cost of $2,000 per month.
Another questioned expenditure was of $27,209 for telephone services, cellular phones, beepers and Internet services for top agency officials.
And $22,690 was paid to a Strike Force official and two associates for undocumented "expense money."
According to the report, "During the period of Dec. 22, 1999, to March 17, 2000, the Strike Force official received $5,100 in cash and $5,800 in checks. The account's checkbook listed the cash payments as 'expense money,' with no other explanation." However, the report goes on to say, "The former Strike Force official was not trained to perform undercover work, and there were no documented reports to justify the payment of these funds."
Between April and July 2000, another $11,790 was paid to two people, "one being a relative, for undercover work." These people did not follow established procedures and were not trained for undercover work, nor were they government employees, the report stated.
"However, they received government funds … and were allowed to operate government vehicles during and after office hours. We found no documentation as to what services they might have provided to the Strike Force," the audit said.
Further, the report said, no action was ever taken to recover $22,000 for Strike Force vehicle totaled in an accident with a drunken off-duty police officer. The vehicle was never replaced and was being "cannibalized for parts."
Bad loans and unaccounted-for budget adjustments resulted in almost $36,000 in other questionable uses or losses of Strike Force funds.
Two years prior to being placed under the Police Department umbrella, the Strike Force came under fire by then-Police Commissioner Ramon Davila, who said some of the Strike Force agents were not trustworthy.
And in 1997, José Garcia, at the time the acting St. Thomas- St. John police chief, told the Legislature that two St. Thomas Strike Force agents had criminal backgrounds and four agents — three on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas — were being investigated by the FBI.
Then-Attorney General Julio Brady and Davila proposed that the agency be dismantled. It wasn't.
Law Enforcement Planning Commission's role
On a less-dramatic, but no-less-painful note, the report said grants to the Law Enforcement Planning Commission in the amount of $2.3 million were "not used effectively."
Sixteen grants for years 1995 to 1998 were closed out with $949,019 not having been used for their intended law-enforcement purposes.
A letter dated May 24, 2000, from the U.S. Department of Justice cited more unused grant balances totaling almost $1.4 million for fiscal years 1992 to 1996.
The audit said, "Considering that non-profit organizations and other potential subgrantees needed funds to effectively carry out programs related to law enforcement, the commission should have made greater efforts to use all available grant funds."
Part of the problem might have been that all the terms of supervisory board members had expired by 1997. The advisory board, responsible for "programs under the Federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act," among other things, has not met in more than eight years — since Dec. 9, 1993.
The LEPC grant administrator requested more than a year ago that Turnbull appoint new members to the board. Police Commissioner Franz Christian has done so again, according to his response to the audit's recommendations.
In a January 2001 letter to then-drug policy advisor Wayne Chinnery, an acting assistant attorney general expressed concerns about late submissions and the absence in some cases of grant reports. Chinnery was fired by the governor, without explanation, a few months later.
Other glaring problems at LEPC include lack of grant oversight, loss of potential interest income on grant money, and lack of career employees.
Although the V.I. Code states that "all employees of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission except the administrator should be career employees," only three of 10 were classified employees at the time of the audit, auditors found.
Further, the non-classified employees were allowed to set their own salaries, "which were paid from federal funds," the audit said.
Christian concurred with the 18 recommendations made by the auditors but gave no dates for completing corrective action. Therefore, only one recommendation was considered resolved and implemented, which was the control of firearms.
Christian said, "Measures will be immediately implemented to account for all weapons that have been procured by the department for use by authorized departmental personnel."


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