Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Questions about public funding to run a non-existent law enforcement academy

In 2011 Doña Ana Community College, which teaches some law enforcement classes, wanted to start a law enforcement academy (LEA).

DASO and LCPD already had academies. Neither wanted to throw in with DACC. DACC rep Richard DeRouen made a presentation to the accrediting agency, but the agency wasn't encouraging and hasn't done anything since to accredit the non-existent LEA.

Nevertheless, DACC got the feds to shell out $156,468 for the 2012-2013 academic year for salaries, uniforms, and a fancy shooting simulator.

DACC listed LEA classes in an online catalog, despite having no such academy, then reportedly told students who applied that the classes were canceled.

DACC spent the money and got another $134,183 for 2013-2014. DeRouen received more than $80K for one year's salary and benefits out of the grants. I asked a DACC rep what DeRouen was actually doing for the LEA then, but he didn't know. There's still no LEA. (For this year DACC sought just $3,250 for replacement ammo for the shooting simulator, used in a self-defense class.)

People within DACC had questions; but one employee who asked them of DeRouen reported he got angry. One instructor was heard asking DeRouen, when the initial money came in, whether the deal was all right. DeRouen assured him it was. In August 2012 a DACC employee wrote DACC Prexy Margie Huerta a letter suggesting DACC had put the cart before the horse by obtaining and spending funds before creating the institution the funds were to help run. Before leaving for another job, the employee also warned Andy Burke that he'd get in trouble over this stuff. Burke reportedly indicated he didn't want to know.

Sadly, all this compounds lingering questions about DACC based on Huerta's scandalous handling of the Nursing Program accreditation loss. (The bulk of the activity in both programs preceded both Garrey Carruthers's NSMU Presidency and the tenure of DACC President Renay Scott.)

Did DACC tell the State it didn't have an LEA teaching classes? If so, when? Should money have been returned? Were the class listings misleading? Was all this on the up-and-up, or did DACC defraud the government? (The funds were federal grants administered by the New Mexico Department of Education.)

DACC won't say. DeRouen told me he “wasn't comfortable” talking about this matter. He referred me to a Public Information Officer who didn't know a lot and refused to let me speak with DeRouen.

DACC's applications boasted an Advisory Council “meeting twice a year to ensure that the program continues to meet student educational needs.” The phrase, “the program continues to meet student needs,” suggests a program that exists. If it didn't exist, how could it continue or meet student needs?
DACC listed as Council members a who's who of law enforcement; but several named members recalled no such meetings; and although NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez confirmed attending meetings, he conceded other agencies were less regular in attendance.

DACC said the LEA would get accredited. That hasn't happened. It's not on the agenda for the next meeting. A key factor appears to be strong inter-agency support, which is highly unlikely.

Sheriff Todd Garrison told me DASO wouldn't actively oppose the proposal, but isn't supporting it. LCPD Chief Jaime Montoya said he'd told DACC representatives “we do not want to go that route.” Another law enforcement official described “absolutely no interest in having DACC train DASO officers. (There are cogent reasons, which I'll post on my blog.)

At least current online listings now warn that “Accreditation is Pending”; but where accreditation is highly unlikely, even that could be a little misleading, though literally true.
Maybe these questions have easy answers; but if so, why didn't DeRouen offer any?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 31 August.  It wasn't easy to write.  Some public documents raised interesting questions; but the key figure at DACC wouldn't talk with me wasn't "comfortable" talking with me about them, and questions raised by DACC critics sometimes seemed as if they might go too far.
Below, I want to amplify what the column said on a couple of points.]

[A key issue is that throughout this odd story, it probably should have been fairly obvious that accreditation for the proposed law enforcement academy was, at best, a long-shot.  That's partly because a key issue for the accrediting agency appeared to be need: was there inter-agency support for this, did local law enforcement entities want to join in the project or would they hire cadets from the DACC law enforcement academy?"
The answer was a resounding "No!" although gussied up a bit for courtesy's sake.   I talked to some very experienced law enforcement officers and trainers and they gave some pretty good reasons for their positions.  It was clearly not merely a matter of "turf."
First of all, and meaning no insult to DACC's law enforcement instructors, DASO and LCPD each have an academy.  There are good reasons to keep running those and hire graduates from them.
1. When you train cadets you gain an extraordinary amount of insight into those cadets.  Who learns more quickly or more slowly?  Which cadet finds which areas easy and which areas difficult? The insights gleaned from training the men could inform assignments and conceivably even save lives.
2. I was repeatedly told that the (proposed) DACC Law Enforcement Academy would be more "academic." 
3. Institutions training cadets include in the program a lot of policy points and other information specific to the institution that's doing the training and will do most of the hiring.  That doesn't hurt a DASO Academy cadet who later goes to Farmington or NMSU; but a new DASO officer who had trained elsewhere would have missed that material, and might need extra time to ingest it.
Since these points were articulated to the DACC folks, and since those folks went ahead and procured (and spent) funds for their project, one wonders why.  They had to know accreditation was highly unlikely.  Why did they proceed?  Ambition, I'm guessing; but if that spilled over into misleading students and/or the government, it doesn't seem appropriate.]

[Another point worth touching on is DACC's response to questioning.  DeRouen spoke with me briefly, but soon announced he was "uncomfortable" talking with me and referred me to a Public Information Officer.   The PIO was courteous, but when he learned the subject of my interest he said he wanted to check with DeRouen and get back to me.  He did, the next day, saying DeRouen didn't want to talk with me.  He offered to take my questions and obtain answers.  I initially rejected that, because I was pretty sure he wouldn't know the answers -- and if he brought back a non-responsive or incomplete answer from DeRouen, I'd be waiting a while for an answer to a follow-up question.  Then I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I called back and asked him several pertinent questions.  Mostly he didn't know the answers.  In one case he answered, but I'm pretty sure he was (unintentionally) wrong.   I reiterated that I could talk with DeRouen with the PIO on the line; but he never called back to accept that suggestion or answer any of the questions I'd already asked him.
I  have a hard job understanding that.  Always seems to me that folks are usually better off giving their best explanations and answers. (That's not necessarily true when one is being investigated by law enforcement, which may be the case here.  I'd heard so, but didn't include it in the column because I wasn't certain it was accurate.)

The PIO insisted DeRouen was upset because I'd accused him of defrauding the government.  I hadn't.  Rather, that was the question I was trying to answer: I'd seen documents that could be read that way, and were being read that way, and wanted to see whether there was a better way to read them or some additional information that would show there was nothing at all off-key about this. 

Maybe there's some easy explanation.  If so, I'd have appreciated hearing it, and perhaps writing about something more fun this week.]


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