OIGS ANALYSIS OF COPS/OJP COMMENTS TO OIGS
SUMMARY REPORT ISSUED IN APRIL 199930
In a number of places, the response takes issue with our auditing techniques and the validity of some of our findings and recommendations. We believe that our findings are fair and our recommendations are reasonable given the facts that we collected at the time of our audits. Further, while we rely on COPS' criteria to conduct our audits, we are not bound by them. Our auditors establish baselines against which to measure grantee performance based on the authorizing legislation, program intent, criteria established by COPS, and other sources. If we identify gaps between these baselines and actual practices, we determine the reasons for these discrepancies, and, if appropriate, make findings and formulate recommendations to close the gaps. COPS and OJP are free to accept or reject our findings and recommendations. However, given our statutory mission to identify and deter waste, fraud, and abuse, COPS and OJP cannot prescribe what those findings and recommendations will be. We view independent audits as one of our roles in the Department's overall system of checks and balances.
At Page 1, Paragraph 2 of its response, COPS contends that it is committed to ensuring that all COPS grants are implemented in full compliance with the applicable requirements. COPS stated that when it confirms through the audit process that a grantee has not complied with a grant requirement, it takes immediate corrective action to ensure that grant funds are not spent improperly.
Our experience has been that while COPS takes action on our findings, and indeed has in certain instances recovered money from grantees based on our audits, we do not agree with the assertion that COPS requires full compliance immediately. For example, COPS could make greater use of one of its best alternatives to deter potential waste and misuse of taxpayer dollars withholding funds from grantees for serious instances of grantee non-compliance. COPS views the withholding of grant funds as a last resort only to be used in the most extreme cases. Our reports do not recommend withholding funds except in cases involving egregious grant violations. When we have made recommendations to withhold funds, COPS has generally rejected them. In our judgment, withholding funds is one of the few meaningful options COPS has to require grantee compliance. We urge that it be employed more often.
At Page 1, Paragraph 3, COPS describes the overall success of COPS grants in promoting community policing. COPS states that law enforcement officials across the country confirmed that community policing works and that the COPS program has done more than any other program in history to advance community policing. COPS also states that crime rates across the country are at the lowest level in 25 years, and that law enforcement officials credit community policing as a key factor in this significant decrease.
Our individual grant audits and our summary report do not assess whether there is a relationship between community policing and a grantee's crime rate. However, the anecdotal evidence advanced by COPS does not constitute the kind of systematic and objective program evaluation needed to validate its claims. Needless to say, the crime rate can be influenced by a variety of factors including a growing economy, low unemployment, an aging population, and historically high incarceration rates. We are in no position to assess the broad claims advanced in the response concerning the asserted causal connection among COPS grants, community policing, and sharply reduced crime rates.
At Page 2, Paragraph 1, the response states that COPS has funded 92,000 additional sworn officer positions nationwide and will reach their goal of funding 100,000 officer positions this year.
On numerous occasions, the President, the Attorney General, and the COPS Office have described the goal of the program to put 100,000 additional officers on the street by 2000, not just to provide funding for 100,000 additional officers.
At Page 2, Paragraph 2, COPS describes San Diego, California as having a highly successful community policing strategy, with crime rates decreasing 30 percent from 1993 to 1997, while at the same time that citizen surveys show an 89 percent approval rating of police.
Although we cannot validate the suggested link between community policing and the sharply decreased crime rate, our work suggests that San Diego is in fact a model with respect to its community policing program. Our recent audit of San Diego confirmed that the police department was actively involved in a wide variety of community policing activities and that community leaders were satisfied with the city's efforts.
At Page 2, Paragraph 5, COPS notes that the Audit Summary is based on only 1.2 percent of the 11,300 COPS grantees.
Although our audits cover slightly more than 1 percent of the number of grantees, these grantees represent about 10 percent of the funds COPS has obligated for the grant program ($500 million of $5 billion). In our judgment, this is fairly significant coverage of the universe of funds at risk.
At Page 2, Paragraph 5, COPS takes exception to our summary being based on referrals of high risk grantees by the COPS Office or OJP. The response states that the sample of grantees audited therefore does not represent an accurate cross-section of all COPS grantees.
The report is clear in giving credit to COPS for its proactive approach to management of suspected problem grantees. The report is also clear in stating that, given the many referrals from COPS and OJP, there is reason to think that our results may not be representative of the overall universe of grantees. But we have no way to determine how representative they are. As we indicate in our report, the results of the 46 audits we selected ourselves do not appear to differ markedly from the audits conducted as the result of referrals from COPS. COPS is correct, however, in stating that we do not select our audits at random. We target them at grantees that we believe constitute the greatest risks.
At Page 3, Paragraph 2, COPS expresses concern that the individual audit reports addressed in the Audit Summary were not provided to the COPS Office in draft form for advance review and comment. The COPS Office believes that many problems could have been clarified had it been given a chance to provide advance input. In other parts of its response COPS indicates that its level of disagreement is 96 percent of our community policing findings (Page 4, Paragraph 3), 94 percent of our retention findings (Page 4, Paragraph 4), 69 percent of our supplanting findings (Page 5, Paragraph 4), and 33 percent of our redeployment findings (Page 6, paragraph 4).
When COPS first brought the asserted high percentages of disagreement to our attention after it received a draft of this summary report, we were surprised and concerned. For these four categories of findings, we reviewed the official follow-up correspondence that was exchanged between the OIG and COPS after report issuance for the 68 audits addressed by COPS. We found a much lower rate of disagreement than indicated by COPS: 17 percent for our community policing findings, 3 percent for retention findings, 11 percent for supplanting findings, and 3 percent for redeployment findings. COPS did not articulate what it now claims to be broad disagreement with these findings until it received a draft of our summary report and we confirmed our intention to release the report publicly.
With respect to issuing grant reports in draft, we agreed in January 1999 to a pilot program of issuing draft COPS audit report to the grantee, COPS, OJP, and the Justice Management Division. We did so for fairness reasons despite a reservation that it will reduce the number of audits that we could perform. Prior to January 1999 we issued our COPS grant audits directly in final.
It is important to note that the issues identified in this report reflect the conditions we identified at the time of the audit. They are based on the best information available to us at the time. It is not unusual for additional information to be brought to our attention after audit reports are issued. This does not suggest that our findings were inaccurate at the time or that they are inaccurate now.
At Page 3, Paragraph 5, the COPS Office states that it is dedicated to enhancing community policing and that grantees are required to increase their use of community policing within the grantee's jurisdiction.
As a result of our extensive and continuing experience auditing under these COPS grants programs, we have developed a concern that COPS' definition of what constitutes acceptable community policing activities is overly broad. It has been our experience that COPS accepts virtually any activity related to law enforcement as community policing. One result is that many grantees appear to be confused as to what community policing is. The following are examples of practices that we have questioned in our audits.
We have no quarrel with COPS view that community policing activities should be consistent with local needs. Nor do we dispute the virtue of encouraging innovation or according grantees wide latitude in fashioning their own community policing programs so that each program is well matched to the special needs of the community being served. Nevertheless, we are concerned that the definition of community policing employed by COPS is too broad. COPS should consider whether traditional law enforcement work, with little or no evidence of community involvement, meets its definition of community policing.
At Page 3, Paragraph 6, COPS uses the example of Carthage, Mississippi, to support its position that many of our audit reports discussed in the Audit Summary contain recommendations for improving a grantee's community policing efforts but that they do not necessarily indicate that the grantee has not implemented community policing.
We agree that in this case our report could have been misinterpreted. Since a recommendation to improve certain aspects of community policing does not necessarily mean that a grantee's overall community policing program was inadequate, we have made appropriate adjustments in the entries for Carthage, Mississippi, and Lubbock, Texas, in Appendix I.
At Page 4, Paragraph 2, COPS states that Richmond, Virginia was not in violation of the requirement to implement community policing, but simply needed to update its community policing plans to reflect current activities.
Our audit determined that the Richmond, Virginia, Police Department implemented plans that were not consistent with its grant application. COPS criteria state that a grantee must seek prior approval if it plans to make major programmatic changes. In this case, the Richmond Police Department used the grant funds in a way that, in our judgment, was materially inconsistent with plans stated in its application and the deviation was a major program change that needed to be addressed by the COPS Office.
At Page 4, Paragraph 4, COPS expresses concern about the extent to which the Summary Report indicates that grantees are not complying with the requirement to retain funded officers for a specified period of time. COPS states that at the time of the audits, no formal retention plan was required as long as the grantees could demonstrate in some manner that they were planning in good faith to retain the additional officer positions after the grant expired.
The Crime Act requires COPS grant applicants, in conjunction with their grant applications, to "specify plans for obtaining necessary support and continuing the proposed program... following the conclusion of Federal support." Until August 1998, the COPS Office advised its grantees that this requirement mandated that they "plan in good faith to retain the COPS office positions with local funding at the conclusion of the COPS grant period." COPS defines "good faith" to mean "a sincere and legitimate attempt" to secure local funding. COPS has indicated to us previously that it accepts oral assertions from local officials as evidence of a good faith effort. We do not. In performing our audits, we review documentation, when available, and ask grantees what efforts they have made to retain the positions. Evidence of acceptable good faith efforts would include minutes from budget hearings, attempts to add COPS funded officers to the local budget, and correspondence to or from funding agencies. In cases where we have concluded that the grantee was not making a good-faith effort to retain the officer positions, we have made recommendations that they develop a written plan, even though it was not a formal grant requirement. We did so because, in our judgment, a written retention plan detailing how the positions will be retained and how they will be funded is the best evidence of "good faith" planning. Since August 1998, COPS has required that all new grantees commit in writing their plans for retaining the additional officer positions. We commend COPS for imposing this requirement.
At Page 5, Paragraphs 3 and 4, COPS states that an accurate supplanting determination depends on a second analytic step namely, obtaining and reviewing documentation from the grantee that may or may not demonstrate whether the reduction-in-force or other action would have occurred even in the absence of the COPS grant funding. COPS also indicates that in the audit of the Rosebud Sioux the police officer reductions-in-force were the result of Bureau of Indian Affairs funding cuts.
Our findings on supplanting are based on: (1) the fact that the grantee has not maintained the number of additional police officers required by the grant, and (2) the lack of an acceptable reason for the grantee not maintaining the additional officers. With respect to the Rosebud Sioux, after we established that the grantee had cut tribal positions by exactly the same number of COPS-funded positions, we asked for the reason. We were told by a local official that the tribal positions were reduced "in anticipation of a grant." The tribal official also indicated that she had cautioned the tribal council that "they couldn't do that." These reasons were clearly indicators of supplanting. At no time during our audit did the grantee advise us that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had cut its funding. If we had been so informed and the grantee had been able to demonstrate to our satisfaction that the police department was not unduly targeted for the cuts, we would not have made a supplanting finding. Again, our audits are based on the best available information provided to us at the time.
At Page 6, Paragraphs 1 and 2, COPS states that it does not require grantees to begin tracking redeployment until the grant is fully implemented through the purchase, installation, and use of the new equipment or technology, or the hiring of the new civilian staff. COPS believes that this standard is appropriate because grantees cannot redeploy sworn officers into community policing until the grant-funded support resources (equipment, technology, or civilian staff) are fully operational. COPS also states that its MORE redeployment program has proven to be an effective and well-received grant program.
Our audit results cast doubt on the effectiveness of the COPS redeployment program. All redeployment grants are supposed to be one-year grants; however, we often find that several years later grantees cannot demonstrate that the required number of officer FTEs have been redeployed. COPS practice has been to give grantees an extension until they can demonstrate that redeployment has occurred. In addition to problems with confirming actual redeployment, we are concerned because grantees can draw all redeployment grant funding before they demonstrate actual or partial redeployment. We are pleased, however, that COPS appears to have tightened its policy on redeployment. COPS recently issued Grant Monitoring Standards and Guidelines for Hiring and Redeployment Grants that now require grantees to track time savings as soon as possible during the grant period instead of after the technology has been fully implemented and is operational. Although we do not dispute that the MORE grant program has been well-received, it is not clear what standards COPS has employed to determine that it is effective.
At Page 6, Paragraph 3, COPS states that in the audit of the Richmond, California, Police Department we recommended that COPS terminate the grant if the grantee did not demonstrate and document the redeployment of officers into community policing within 120 days of the audit report.
Our recommendation was that the grantee provide a plan to demonstrate the redeployment of the required sworn officer FTEs to community policing within 120 days of the date of the audit report. If this did not occur within 120 days, we recommended withholding future funds, and then deobligating the funds if the deficiency remained uncorrected. Our concern on the Richmond, California, redeployment grants was that despite two grants (MORE '95 and MORE '96) the grantee could not demonstrate that any officers had been redeployed by the date of our exit conference in August 1998. Through April 12, 1999, we still have received no evidence from the grantee or COPS indicating that any of the officers funded by these grants have been redeployed to community policing.
CONCLUSION ON SUMMARY REPORT
The $8.8 billion authorized for the hiring and redeployment of police officers through COPS and OJP is the Department's largest grant program since the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration's (LEAA) grants of the late 1970s. At the inception of the COPS program, Attorney General Reno expressed her concern about potential problems in managing such a large grant program and her desire for effective oversight. She requested both Department management and the OIG to help make this program a success. For these reasons, we have made COPS grant audits a priority. The 149 grant audits that are summarized herein are the results of our work through September 30, 1998. Our audits suggest that while additional officers have been added to the nation's streets, certain aspects of the program require continued scrutiny and oversight. We will continue to aggressively oversee the dollars involved by independently reviewing the program and reporting our results through grant audits, program audits, and summaries.
30 This analysis applies to COPS/OJPs response to our summary report, which can be found on pages 71 through 76 of this report.