$21M in homeland security funds given to Ohio police chiefs group

The association is a
nonprofit group but is not
a local government.

COLUMBUS (AP) — Millions of dollars in federal grants have flowed to a statewide police chiefs group, raising questions about whether the money can be better spent on the departments themselves.

The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police is not a government agency and was not qualified to receive $21 million in federal funds — $7 million a year from 2004 through 2006 — Ohio Homeland Security officials said.

The chiefs association received more than half the money allocated to Ohio through the Local Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, one of the five federal programs that distributes Department of Homeland Security money, tripling the association’s annual budget.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” said Josh Engel, chief legal counsel for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the agency that oversees homeland security in Ohio.

Federal law mandates that only local governments are eligible for the grant money, with a few exceptions. The association, based in the suburb of Dublin, is a nonprofit group, not a government agency.

In 2004, James Canepa, an attorney in then-Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro’s office, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Justice officials saying the chief s association functions as a regional planning commission, so under federal law it could qualify for Homeland Security funds.

Two years later, Martin Murphy, who seeks grants on behalf of Cuyahoga County criticized the state’s decision to classify the chiefs association as qualified to receive the money.

Many urban police agencies, including Cleveland’s, need Homeland Security money than a nonprofit agency does, Murphy said.

After Murphy’s complaint, a year went by before a formal inquiry into the money, a lapse Powell Police Chief Gary Vest calls politically motivated. Vest, who chairs an information-sharing project that used most of the federal money, said official interest was prompted by a new Democratic-controlled state government.

And Todd Wurschmidt, executive director of the chiefs association, said the federal money has been well spent. Most of the grant was used to set up a computer network intended to link Ohio’s 900-plus police agencies and help them share incident reports, field notes and other information. The network is the largest of its kind in the nation, Wurschmidt said.

“We’ve accomplished things that no one else in the country has,” he said.