The statistics provided by DeKalb police to federal grant holders painted a portrait of a county besieged by crime, with more than 11,000 aggravated assaults reported in 2008 alone.
But according to a recent audit by the U.S. Inspector General, that was about 10,000 too many.
The government watchdog found the county also over-reported numbers in every additional crime category. Those stats helped secure more than $2.3 million — money which will likely have to be refunded.
“It was an egregious error,” said DeKalb Police Chief Cedric Alexander. “None of us here were in place, including the grant writer.”
The audit reviewed three grants from Community Oriented Policing Services totaling more than $4.5 million received by the county between July 2009 and September 2013. The money was to hire entry-level police officers and support efforts to reduce child endangerment, but the audit could not account for $783,186.
So far, no one’s been able to explain the discrepancies in the crime stats and where the money ended up.
“I don’t know what happened,” Alexander told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It could have been done by accident or it could’ve been done on purpose.”
Former DeKalb Police Chief Terrell Bolton was fired in 2009 for alleged insubordination, misuse of county property and conduct unbecoming an officer. Bolton told Channel 2 Action News “everything related to DeKalb needs to be punted back to them.”
Federal investigators haven’t fared much better in their search for answers.
According to the inspector general’s report, “The former grant manager told us the application statistics included in the grant application were researched by the police department’s grants coordinator and provided by that person for inclusion in the grant application.”
All grant-related documentation was maintained in a police department file, the grant manager said.
The grants coordinator told a different story in the audit. All the information was obtained from the department’s crime analysis unit, she said, adding she was unaware of the source of their information. Also, “she did not recall” the existence of a department file and told investigators she did not retain copies of the supporting documentation for the faulty stats.
The inflated stats weren’t the only problems identified in the audit. According to the report, some grant-funded officer salaries and fringe benefits were unsupported and unallowed while grant-funded officer positions were not always filled during the required period.
Alexander said the county has instituted a system of check and balances to make sure such mistakes aren’t repeated.
“We keep much better records now,” said the chief, who, along with interim DeKalb CEO Lee May, met last month with officials from the inspector general’s office. “We’re doing everything we can to address this.”
But unless they can justify the funding received based on the inflated stats, the money will have to be returned, said acting Deputy Inspector General Robert P. Storch.