A decadelong, $7-billion federal program to help local police and fire departments prepare for a terrorist attack has allowed communities to buy millions of dollars worth of equipment that goes unused or is unrelated to terrorism, says a report from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) reported by the Los Angeles Times. Since 2003, the Department of Homeland Security Urban Areas Security Initiative has ballooned from 12 major metropolitan areas to 31 jurisdictions. The study found that some cities and towns had created implausible attack scenarios to win federal grants, and had scrambled at the end of each fiscal year to buy extra, unnecessary gadgets to spend excess cash.
Columbus, Ohio used $98,000 to buy an underwater robot for local rivers. Peoria, Az., spent $90,000 to install cameras and car bomb barriers at the spring training field for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners. Police in Oxnard spent $75,000 to outfit a cultural center with surveillance equipment and alarms. Clovis, Ca., used the police department's $200,000 armored personnel carrier to patrol an annual Easter egg hunt. In San Diego, police officers and rescue workers used Homeland Security grant money to cover the cost of a five-day counter-terrorism conference held at a resort. "We cannot make every community around the country invulnerable to terrorist attacks by writing large checks from Washington, D.C.," said Coburn, who is seeking to cut the Homeland Security budget, which totaled $46 billion this year.