WAFB-Channel 9 in Baton Rouge had a fun little investigative report on their air yesterday which shows something we all know – mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome and her team are about as clueless as it’s possible to be…
The rush by East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s administration to buy body cameras for every Baton Rouge police officer may mean the city will lose $750,000. Now, they’re scrambling to try to keep that money from heading back to the federal government.
All Baton Rouge police officers are now equipped with a body camera, but there’s a question about whether the city took full advantage of federal money available to help buy those cameras.
Back in February, Stephen Maberry of LSU wrote the grant on behalf of the city and BRPD, requesting $750,000 from the federal government for body cameras for the department. “The federal funds, along with the match, would have allowed every officer to have a body camera with an additional 40 or so for maintenance purposes,” said Maberry.
The grant only required a 50 percent match from the city, but the city wanted to make sure all officers were covered, so they put up the rest of the money. The grant amount requested was $749,992. BRPD would have had to match $797,100. Maberry says BRPD reported the project would cost a total of $1,547,092. That would pay for the 698 officers and 40 additional cameras for backup.
The city received a confirmation letter from the federal government that they were processing the city’s grant.
Then on April 26, Broome went before the East Baton Rouge Parish metro council requesting $2,250,000 for body cameras.
“Is this general funds,” asked Councilman Chandler Loupe at a council meeting in April. Mayor Broome responded with, “Yes.”
The biggest problem some council members had was spending that much money out of the general fund. “I’ve been here for eight years and the administration always told us they were broke and didn’t have any money and now all these general funds are appearing,” said Loupe.
“We have requested money for different things and we’ve been told by the administration in finance that we need to watch our reserve, we need to watch this or watch whatever,” said Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis.
“I just hate to see when we get close to the summer and we have an event, whether it’s a hurricane or anything, we’re going to be thin and I support the cameras. I support the police department. It’s not that. My point is, financially, we better watch where we’re going because if we have a disaster, we’re going to be short on money,” said EBR Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson.
The vote passed 11 to 1. Wilson was the only council member to vote against it due to his financial concerns.
In late August, the first of body cameras starting rolling out to BRPD officers. Then in late September, the federal government notified the mayor’s office the grant was awarded.
Are you following this so far? The city-parish had applied for a federal grant of $750,000 for body cameras for the police department back in February, but before any disposition of the grant application Broome went out and got the Metro Council to appropriate $2.25 million to buy them.
Then the feds came through with the grant, after the cameras the grant would purchase have already been bought.
This wouldn’t be a big deal but for the fact the grant application rules dictate the grant doesn’t provide reimbursement for funds already spent.
So what happens now? Well, now Broome has to hope Garret Graves, the congressman from Baton Rouge, can ride in and fix the problem.
“What we’ve been trying to do is ensure that the police department doesn’t lose the fund. We’re trying to find other eligible use of the dollars that will help some of the mission of the Baton Rouge Police Department. We certainly don’t want to lose $750,000 of federal funding,” said Congressman Garret Graves.
Graves says the Department of Justice has already told him the grant money cannot be used to reimburse the city for the cameras they have already purchased, but could possibly be used for maintenance, storage, tech services, and more body cameras, or that it may have to all be returned to the federal government.
“The thought that we may have to return dollars would be extremely frustrating. This is reminiscent to what we saw with some of the BRAVE funds months ago and I think contrary to what’s in the public’s interest,” said Graves.
“It is not a loss of funds at this time,” said Broome.
This might get worked out. Graves is a fairly effective mover and shaker when it comes to federal appropriations, so he might well be able to bail the city out. But this is the kind of stupidity and incompetence you really can’t have if you’re supposed to be America’s Next Great City.
Broome says the reason her office went full bore and secured the appropriation from the Metro Council was that the body camera grant had been applied for in 2015 and 2016 and Baton Rouge didn’t get it, so they didn’t think the money would come this year either. Except Maberry, the grant-writer, says otherwise – he says they knew from the start they’d get approval – after all, between the time the 2016 grant was turned down and the 2017 application you had the Alton Sterling mess which showed the importance of having those body cameras working when the cops were in action.
We talked to Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso this morning about this. Amoroso was on the joint committee chaired by State Representative C. Denise Marcelle formed to look into ways to get body cameras provided to all the police officers in town, and he said that the committee had looked around for every source of funding they could and didn’t find one (this was in January, mind you) – and when the grant Maberry had written the application for came through they were all surprised. They didn’t even know it was available.
Which is a bit troublesome, seeing as though the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance had put out their competitive grant solicitation announcement in December. You can read the whole thing at the link. Somebody dropped the ball on Marcelle’s committee in not knowing it was out there; Maberry wrote the grant application on behalf of the Baton Rouge Police Department – you can see the award here.
So neither Marcelle nor Broome had any idea that BRPD was pursuing the grant, and that’s a pretty good barometer of just how plugged in the mayor and the state representative are with the police they’ve done a pretty good job demonizing.
And as it stands now, that $750,000 Maberry got for the BRPD to put body cameras on its officers could well be headed back to Washington because Broome and her people did such a shoddy job of marshalling resources for something nobody questioned the utility of.
We have three more years of this, and there is no reason to think it will get better. The question is whether Broome will run off so many middle-class taxpayers – black and white alike – that what’s left in East Baton Rouge Parish will be an electorate incapable of holding her accountable for debacles like this one.