Charlotte Observer (North Carolina) - by Steve Harrison
The city of Charlotte released more information Friday about how it is spending a multimillion-dollar federal security grant for the Democratic National Convention - with almost all money so far going toward technology upgrades for a police video observation center uptown.
In addition, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has purchased new equipment for Harley-Davidson motorcycles that will be used during the DNC.
CMPD and the city have been reluctant to give detailed spending information, saying disclosing purchases would compromise their security plan.
But after the Observer raised questions, the city released more information as to how it has spent $1.9 million of the money so far.
The city will receive a $50 million federal security grant, and CMPD has said it could spend up to half of that money on equipment.
A year ago, after learning it had won the DNC, the Charlotte City Council voted unanimously to give City Manager Curt Walton the power to authorize all DNC contracts without council approval. Some council members said they didn't realize their vote meant that all security purchases wouldn't come before a public vote, as would be the normal procedure.
After the Observer made an initial request in January, CMPD released only general descriptions of how the money had been spent.
Friday's summary was heavily redacted for security reasons, but gave more detail:
- The biggest expense is to create a command center for the DNC at CMPD's uptown headquarters. The department has so far spent $1.73 million, including $736,000 to "upfit" the space and $965,000 on new video monitors, hardware, software and a "digital media content management system."
The city already has surveillance cameras uptown, and CMPD has said it may buy more cameras for the convention. The new DNC space will be used to monitor cameras from convention sites.
- CMPD has spent $131,000 on new equipment for motorcycles, including $41,000 for emergency lights and sirens; $46,000 for radios; and $27,000 for radars.
- CMPD spent $2,016 on "Extraction Device Training Travel."
According to the summary, the training will be for "anticipated activities during the Democratic National Convention." Police said they "need to provide current training to a number of officers certified on extraction/cut team techniques." Much of the rest of the summary about the purchase was redacted.
- The department has spent $8,000 on DNC-related travel, including $3,200 on a visit to Tampa, Fla., which is hosting the Republican National Convention a week before the Charlotte convention.
Police purchases for the RNC in Tampa are going before the City Council there. Denver, which hosted the 2008 DNC, initially refused to release information as to how it was spending the federal security grant. But after being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, the city gave some details about its purchases.
Under N.C. open records laws, almost all police purchases would be open for public inspection. However, the law states that information pertaining to security plans is exempt, and the city said in January that knowing what CMPD is buying could compromise its position.
However, in February, the city modified its position by releasing the summary. Charlotte Senior Assistant City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan said the city can release additional summaries of police purchases - though redacted - periodically leading up to the DNC.
CMPD has said the other half of the security grant will be spent on wages and overtime for police officers. CMPD's force will be supplemented with police from across North Carolina.
CMPD Deputy Chief Harold Medlock has said the department would release all spending information after the convention.
In addition to starting to spend the federal security money, the city also has passed new ordinances designed to give police more power to stop potential violence from protesters.
The city has spelled out a number of prohibited items, such as chains, locks, pipes. It also has prohibited the carrying of backpacks, satchels and coolers if police believe they are being used to conceal weapons.