The city of Bellevue, Wa., has never been struck by a terrorist’s bomb, and experts agree the city doesn’t rank in the top tier of likely targets. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says those realities haven’t gotten in the way of the newest equipment in the Bellevue Police Department inventory — a state-of-the-art bomb truck and a robot to sniff out and deactivate bombs. Total cost: $316,000.
The war on terror has made police and the public nervous, but as billions of federal dollars flow in the name of homeland security, it’s presented a unique opportunity for police and local governments to fulfill long-standing wish lists. Across Washington State, communities large and small have bought equipment with a portion of the $8.3 billion in funding the federal government has provided since 2002. Washington has collected more than $70 million in grants over the past three years — $44 million for fiscal year 2004.
Nationwide, 80 percent of the money remains unspent even though the spending deadline is less than a year away. “Do I think everyone’s happy? No,” said Ed Crawford, police chief in Kent and chairman of the Emergency Management Advisory Committee, a group that helps the state’s nine regions decide how the money gets spent. “Some people get funds; others don’t.”
“Not everyone has to have a command vehicle,” said Arel Solie, homeland security program manager at the state’s Emergency Management Division. “We’re looking to get the biggest bang for our buck.” Among the winners is King County, where all police cars are now equipped with gas masks and decontamination kits.
Experts who track funding said cities and highly populated areas get the most money and often get it first. Seattle first responders — fire, policy and emergency medical personnel — received hazardous-material suits that shield them from chemical and biological dangers.
Federal officials worry about the “gold rush,” and the federal Department of Homeland Security is requiring each state to file a plan for how it would spend the money. Washington’s is due May 28.