Recent stories regarding the Narcotics Strike Force and the Law Enforcement Planning Commission attracted my attention since I administered both of these agencies for five years during the Farrelly-Hodge administration. In the interest of helping the public to understand some of the issues that were raised in the recent audit report and so many previously released audit reports on these agencies, I have decided to comment.
The perennial complaint on the inefficient use of federal grant funds that are funneled through and administered by LEPC should be explained properly, if the general public is to be informed on where to look for accountability. The majority of funds received by LEPC are categorical funds intended for use in programs of qualified government and/or non-profit agencies in the territory. As such, these funds cannot be disbursed whimsically.
As the so-called state agency administering these funds according to federal guidelines, LEPC must rely on eligible agencies' compliance with application and reporting requirements governing their grant awards. Unlike the mainland, where competition for similar funding is keen among the many qualified agencies in any given state, in the territory, there is virtually no competition. The consequence is that a tremendous burden is created for the single police department or health department or the few qualified non-profit agencies to first apply and then comply with the terms of the grant award on the utilization of those funds.
This burden is theirs whether they recognize it or not. If any one of the eligible agencies fails either to apply or to meet the reporting requirements of their grant award, funds will be unspent and future audits will continue to reflect this problem. This is so because there is no other police department or health department or department of planning and natural resources in the territory competing for those funds. When operating agencies fail to meet their obligations in the grant program, LEPC is hampered in meeting its own reporting responsibilities to the federal government.
While LEPC can assist operating agencies with their grant applications, the agency as the granting entity cannot assume responsibility for initiating or completing applications, nor can it write user agencies' reports. The problem with unspent funds is substantially a user agency problem, and the public should know this.
On the matter of the Narcotics Strike Force, the public should also know that a written report to the Schneider-Mapp Transition Team in 1994 included a very specific recommendation that I made to dissolve the strike force as a government agency. Unlike a bill that was later introduced by Sen. Celestino White to have the strike force absorbed into the Police Department by transferring the unit and its employees, I recommended dissolution of the unit as a matter of public policy and placement of its employees in other agencies, including the Police Department, but only after determining the suitability of individual employees to serve in that agency. In other words, no wholesale transfer! My recommendation explained the rationale for this approach. But eight years later, the unit remains and discussions continue.
The public also should know that safe houses, "buy money" and undercover operations all are part of drug-enforcement programs, but they need not be carried out by a stand-alone agency such as the strike force. These activities can and should be an integral part of a disciplined and well-run police organization where internal transfers of personnel can be accomplished in ways that are not available to the managers of the stand-alone strike force.
Gaylord A. Sprauve
Drug Policy Adviser to the Governor
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