SACRAMENTO - Since the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government has poured billions of dollars into beefing up security and training local agencies. California received a large chunk of money for homeland security -- more than $3 billion worth of grants in the past decade.
In partnership with California Watch, News10 looked at where those dollars went and in some cases, how the funds were mismanaged. Cal Watch went through 160 reports by federal auditors. News10 went through pages and pages of expenditures by county and city agencies.
State spending: Where did California spend its homeland security dollars
Thanks to an unprecedented windfall of money, local agencies have been able to stock up on all sorts of equipment, including night vision goggles, HAZMAT response vehicles and decontamination units.
Many local police and sheriff's departments used the money for new equipment.
"...for radios, communication equipment, scanners for patrol cars which we are installing now," explained Chief Paul Shelgren of Lincoln Police Department.
Here's a snapshot of where the some of the money went in Sacramento County:
- $2 million for a terrorism early warning center
- $618 thousand for 2 HAZMAT response vehicles
- $170 thousand for more than 25 hundred liquid chemical splash resistant clothing
- $22 thousand for 550 ballistic threat helmets
- $400 thousand for search cameras including thermal imagers
- $45,690 for 1 Bomb Response Vehicle
- 150,000 per bomb detonating robot
Take a look a some of the things the city of Sacramento spent its grant money on:
- $87 thousand for 470 Land/mobile 2-way radios
- $23 thousand for 174 negative pressure respirators
- $64 thousand for mass prophylaxis---that's basically the drugs given to people who have been contaminated
- $1.9 million for training course and program development
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Since 2001, Sacramento County has been awarded more than $98 million in homeland security grant money, $16.7 million of which has yet to be spent.
Cal-EMA explained that once grants are awarded, local agencies have up to three years to spend the money on approved purchases.
Some critics say local agencies may have allocated their money to questionable costs.
Audits by the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector General highlight several concerns about security spending and questionable costs. Following are some examples uncovered by California Watch in Northern California:
- Marin County received more than $100 thousand in surveillance equipment to protect its water treatment system from terrorist attack. Four years after the money was handed out, state authorities found $6 thousand worth of unused gear still in boxes.
- In Placer County, the Lincoln Police Department spent $47 thousand on computer software that was never used.
- Records show that Colusa County bought a $321 lawn mower and tried to get reimbursed with anti-terrorism funds.
- Oakland was reimbursed for the same item twice. It was forced to return more than $92 thousand dollars.
- Several counties and cities bought Segway scooters for their bomb squads. Sonoma County upgraded their scooters. Each one cost $47 hundred dollars.
Security directors say every dollar spent has been critical.
"We've got an evolving threat. We've got creative and determined adversaries. We're much more prepared," said Michael Dayton of Cal-EMA Secretary.
Dayton went on to say, "Our first responders have the ability to talk to one another during a crisis. We are much better prepared to share information, much better prepared to pick up indicators of terrorism and report suspicious activity. We are fundamentally safer today than we were 10 years ago."
Homeland Security Spending by State, Center for Investigative Journalism
New trouble with terror grants uncovered, California Watch
Homeland security marked by waste, lack of oversight, California Watch
Top Secret America, A Washington Post Investigation
Are we safer? Map your local fusion center, Frontline
By Suzanne Phan, email@example.com