WASHINGTON – Cities across the country have had to “arm wrestle, thumb wrestle, twiddle and diddle” with state governments for federal homeland security dollars, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley said Thursday.
That squabbling for cash has held up emergency preparation, which is putting cities at risk, said O’Malley at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“If and when a terrorist attack happens again, the American people will be outraged at how the federal government has handled security,” O’Malley said.
His remarks came as the mayor’s group released a survey of 168 cities across the country, most of which said they had not received any federal homeland security dollars from their states.
Because ports, businesses and masses of people in cities make them likely terrorist targets, the cities should have first crack at homeland security funds instead of having to negotiate with states, O’Malley said.
But Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Rachel Sunbarger defended the current system of routing funds through states, instead of giving them directly to cities. She said it allows states to manage homeland security issues at a regional level and avoid repetition.
“You don’t give one city new fire trucks when a city next to it has too many,” Sunbarger said.
O’Malley said he is confident Baltimore can respond to an emergency — the city has been able to wrest between $5 million and $6 million from the state for first-responders since 2002. But he said the city can always use more, and should not have to fight for it.
Other city officials in Maryland said they are doing OK.
Annapolis has a $2.5 million wish list for the next two years, said city Finance Director Tim Elliott. Much of that money would be used to upgrade communication equipment so city police officers can talk with Anne Arundel County police, when the county switches to digital communication equipment next year, he said.
In the meantime, Elliott said, the city has been able to get about $675,000 for security improvements.
Because of its size, it is easy for a city like Annapolis to get lost, Elliott said. But having the Naval Academy in town helps.
“Hey, we’ve got 4,000 future Navy officers sitting right in our backyard,” Elliott said. “That helped us to get some support.”
Some cities, including Bowie and Rockville, have bowed out of the money chase, choosing to rely instead on their county police and fire departments in case of terrorist attacks.
“We all don’t need the highest of high-tech, as long as the county has it,” said Rockville spokesman Neil Greenberger.
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