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From Our Perspective: Grant Fraud: Think it Can’t Happen in your Agency? Think Again.
By Michael L. Prince, Director
Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning
There have been some alarming incidents involving grant fraud by law enforcement officers taking part in federally-funded traffic safety programs.
The schemes, most of which were associated with grants funding overtime for Special Traffic Enforcement Projects (STEPs) for seat belt, drunk driving, and speed enforcement, typically involved one more of the following:
- Falsification of log sheets: The most common fraud scheme occurred when officers misreported the hours worked, the time tickets were written, and/or the number of tickets written in order to be paid for time not worked. Some of the incidents took place with the approval of supervisors and were discovered when officers’ log sheets were compared to actual time worked based on dispatch logs, ticket records, and vehicle logs.
- Falsification of citations: This was discovered when an officer’s citation book was found with completed citation information but no times noted. Times were apparently omitted from the citations until the log sheet was completed. False times were entered on the citations so it appeared that the citations were written during a STEP overtime shift. Officers had used either false names or, in some cases, were pulling over violators for unrelated matters. Officers also were disposing of the court’s copy of the citation and only keeping their own copy to give the appearance of having submitted the citation documentation to the court. The court system later revealed that there was no record of citations written on the officer’s shift.
- Misuse of administrative time: In the third type of scheme, officers were found to be routinely adding at least one to two hours to their administrative time worked at the end of their shift for work not performed.
Other examples of fraud included a grant to a law enforcement agency where the chief used federal grant funds to cover gaps in the department’s general operating expenses. This resulted in the state reimbursing NHTSA more than $45,000.
The worst example occurred in Texas and netted fraudulent payments of more than $500,000 in overtime for federally funded traffic enforcement projects involving four police agencies. These incidents resulted in the criminal indictment of 25 officers, all of whom have since resigned, retired, or been terminated. Earlier this year, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) expanded its investigation to other states, and it is expected that the amount of fraud and number of officers involved are likely to increase as the investigation continues.
State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) are very diligent in the grant monitoring process to ensure that these types of incidents do not occur. Regardless, as part of their grant monitoring process, SHSOs should: inquire about internal management controls within participating agencies; review citation systems (paper are more vulnerable than electronic); and review supervisor training. Lack of supervision during grant overtime patrols was cited as one of the biggest weaknesses in those agencies that experienced overtime fraud. Better communication, policies and procedures, training, and closer supervision can greatly deter fraudulent behavior and malfeasance.
While the number of incidents is small given the number of agencies that receive funding for these special patrols, there is absolutely zero tolerance for fraud by agencies or individuals receiving state or federal grant funding. These types of incidents are self-serving, criminal, and do nothing to improve traffic safety. They also put our citizens and our families at risk for the sake of personal profit. Lastly, these incidents damage the credibility of law enforcement as well as a federal program that has helped to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on the nation’s roadways.
Anyone who suspects grant fraud should contact their state or federal administering agency, the state attorney general, or the OIG at 800-424-9071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.