New Hampshire

We first sent an open-records request to New Hampshire’s Department of Safety under the state’s Right-to-Know law in September of 2008 asking for records showing how federal anti-terrorism grants had been spent there since 2001. Officials responded that it would take at least 15 business days to determine what records were available and what they were free to withhold under legal exemptions. More than a year passed before we received 323 pages of documents that included invoices and budget worksheets for grant-purchased equipment that went to communities across New Hampshire. Federal grant cycles are open for as long as three years, meaning homeland security funds can be spent well after they’re first awarded, so the records are incomplete and cover a portion of the years 2003 to 2008. A grants specialist at the Department of Safety was reluctant to even make the information publicly available arguing that it could make New Hampshire vulnerable if terrorists knew the types of preparedness gear state and local agencies bought. Despite its small stature, New Hampshire has received tens of millions of dollars worth of preparedness cash in recent years since the distribution formula ensures that each state receives a base amount no matter its size. We’ve uploaded the documents here so that taxpayers can see how considerable sums of public money have been spent and judge on their own the merits of 10 “reflective traffic cones” purchased by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office for $117. The records also show that Carroll County sought a $550 pair of “tactical binoculars” and $10,000 worth of “tactical entry equipment.” The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles needed 75 radiation detectors costing a total of $116,000. The Manchester Fire Department in southern New Hampshire paid $53,000 for security devices to guard a wastewater treatment facility. Police in Nashua, N.H., used more than $250,000 to purchase a mobile-command unit from the Wisconsin company LDV, Inc., plus an additional $3,600 on lettering for the vehicle. Just the lights and sirens for another command truck in the town of Newton, where the population is about 4,600, cost nearly $10,000. Salem, N.H., has around 29,400 residents and police there bought two ballistic shields for $3,100, a spotting scope, “tactical fence climbers” and night-vision gear complete with helmet mounts costing $17,400. A fire department in Portsmouth spent $350,000 on a 33-foot boat and told the Boston Globe in 2007 that they’d waited years for the chance to get it. Previously the city relied on what was once a fishing vessel outfitted with a 200-gallon water tank. But the new craft can pump 2,500 gallons per minute. Portsmouth’s fire chief boasted that his community had not wasted money on all-terrain vehicles “or foolish things like that.” But others in New Hampshire did buy such things. Records show that the state collectively spent at least $140,700 on ATVs, and $378,000 more for two armored trucks from Massachusetts-based Lenco Industries, Inc. Being a smaller, less populated state doesn’t necessarily mean New Hampshire’s grant purchases are unreasonable. According to records, the state has invested heavily in better dispatch technology and new public safety radio equipment, which emergency responders everywhere need to more effectively communicate across one police or fire department and another, a major post-9/11 initiative known as “interoperability.” State auditors in a 2006 report, however, expressed concern that a local emergency 911 call center in Concord, the capital of New Hampshire, didn’t offer a default message for citizens calling in when the lines were overloaded. In other words, 911 at the time may have given panicked citizens in need of help a busy signal. A supervisor for the state Bureau of Emergency Communications told auditors that a message did exist when the system was initially installed and he believed the feature was still in place. Yet no one could say for sure. “The bureau was unable to prove if they have a functioning call-waiting message,” auditors stated. “Such a utility would seem to be essential in keeping callers seeking emergency assistance on the line. The bureau may wish to further investigate this issue until it is satisfied it has a functioning message to retain callers.”

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