DOVER, Del. — A group that has secretively doled out millions of dollars to police agencies in Delaware from the sale of property seized by law enforcement held its first public meeting Thursday following passage of a law partially lifting its veil of secrecy.
No members of the public, other than a lone Associated Press reporter, attended Thursday’s meeting of the Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund oversight group, which approved hundreds of thousands of dollars for law enforcement agencies across the state.
The SLEAF is built on selling property forfeited to the government in criminal cases. It took in more than $1 million and disbursed almost $870,000 in fiscal 2015. The money the group distributes is intended to aid crime prevention and investigation, promote officer safety, facilitate training, improve victim services and enhance public safety and community awareness.
State prosecutor Kathleen Jennings noted at the start of Thursday’s meeting that the group had received more than $815,000 in funding requests but had only about $500,000 in available funds.
As a result, several requests were either withdrawn or tabled for consideration at the group’s next meeting.
“We know there is money in the pipeline, and there should be enough money to have a meeting in December,” Jennings said.
The group started out Thursday by prioritizing requests for funding to benefit more than one law enforcement agency, including $132,000 for the state police Forensic Firearms Services Unit, which uses high-tech equipment to identify weapons and ammunition used in crimes.
State police also received $33,000 to support Delaware CrimeStoppers.
Wilmington police received $70,000 for training programs, including advanced investigation, forensics and evidence detection, while the New Castle County Police Department was granted $38,000 for 350 weapon-mounted lights and 120 lithium batteries, and $15,000 for 250 new holsters.
The SLEAF committee also approved funding to other local police agencies for resources including ballistic vests and shields, radios, computers and software, printers, and automatic external defibrillators.
Several funding requests for body cameras were withdrawn or tabled, as officials eye statewide purchase agreements that would provide more uniformity in equipment and data storage.
“We don’t know what manufacturer is going to win this contract,” Jennings said, adding that state officials have determined that cloud-based storage for body-camera footage is critical.
Jennings said Delaware’s Department of Justice is currently getting video in multiple formats. Cloud-based storage will make it easier to redact sensitive information, such as the identities of crime victims and witnesses, before information is downloaded for use in criminal proceedings, she said.
“We cannot receive the old-fashioned DVDs that we’ve been receiving…. We have no new resources to handle this. We asked for it in our budget, and we got nothing.”
The committee balked at a couple of funding requests, including $24,000 for the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement to buy a John Deer Gator utility vehicle, with trailer, to patrol crowd gatherings such as the annual Firefly Music Festival in Dover. Committee members suggested that the price tag was too high.
The group also rejected a request by the Smyrna Police Department for $7,700 to buy 10 tables, a podium, and two filing cabinets.
“We’re buying furniture. That’s a real slippery slope,” said Jeffrey Horvath, executive director of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council.