THE INVESTIGATORS: Baton Rouge could have to return $750,000 fed - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

THE INVESTIGATORS: Baton Rouge could have to return $750,000 federal grant

Source: WAFB Source: WAFB

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.

RELATED: Metro council approves purchase of body cams for BRPD

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.

Last month, the feds sent an email saying, "Congratulations on receiving funding for the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) body-worn camera and policy implementation project."

CHAWLA: Did Mayor Sharon Weston-Broome know about this grant?

MABERRY: She provided a letter of support for the grant proposal.

CHAWLA: So she was aware the city was applying for this grant?

MABERRY: My understanding, yes, we got her signature on a letter of support.

That letter from the mayor was dated February 13, 2017, reading in part: "Economically, the events of the summer heavily affected the cities resources and budget. The cost of these events to our community is in the millions and caused reserved funds to be heavily depleted funds."

CHAWLA: Were you aware of a federal grant that the city had applied for requesting money for these body cameras?

BROOME: It's my understanding that the city applied for federal grant in 2015 and in 2016 and they were turned down for that grant and in 2017, there was no high expectation that they were going to receive the grant.

CHAWLA: Why would you ask the council for money when there is a grant that was pending?

BROOME: As I shared with you, the grant was turned down in 2015 and 2016.

CHAWLA: Did you ever have any doubts this grant would not get approved?

MABERRY: We were pretty confident that the grant would get approved.

So now that the federal grant money has been approved, but the cameras have already been purchased, what happens now?

"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.

Mayor Broome stresses it's important everyone knows she has been in contact with Congressman Graves to figure out how to keep the money.

BROOME: The grant money has not come to the city or the parish at this time. The grant was approved in October.

CHAWLA: But the money cannot be used to reimburse the city for the cameras that have already been purchased?

BROOME: We do not know that at this time.

The 9News Investigators spoke with the city-parish finance department, which has a purchase order with Taser International for $1,998,281. So far, they've paid the company $1,525,972 of that money and still have more equipment to buy. That figure includes both body cams and dash cams.

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