The Honolulu Police Department is facing questions from the federal government about its spending of millions of dollars of pandemic relief funds on ATVs, pickup trucks and a robot dog.

The U.S. Treasury is auditing the city and asking questions about the HPD spending, according to an email obtained by Civil Beat. The email was sent from the city’s Department of Budget and Fiscal Services to HPD officials on Friday.

HPD Police Chief Susan Ballard walks into press conference before discussing the shooting death of a suspect at Ahuimanu today.
HPD Police Chief Susan Ballard needs to explain her department’s spending decisions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Honolulu’s $387 million of CARES Act money was meant to be spent on “necessary expenditures incurred during the public health emergency with respect to (COVID-19),” according to the U.S. Treasury website. The federal government also requires that the CARES expenditures were not for items already included in local budgets as of March 27, 2020 and that the costs be incurred between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2021.

According to the email, federal officials want the department to justify why it spent $118,000 on a “training simulator for force scenarios,” $150,000 on a robot dog, over $755,000 on thermal imaging equipment and more than $3.6 million on over 100 vehicles, including 40 ATVs and numerous pickup and box trucks.

The feds also want to know the total amount of CARES funds spent on payroll and why it was justified. According to the latest CARES spending breakdown released by the city, HPD’s spending on overtime exceeds $18.8 million from March 2020 through Jan. 20 of this year.

As part of pandemic rule enforcement, 263 HPD officers violated departmental policy by exceeding overtime limits, according to Chief Susan Ballard, although she acknowledged at last week’s Police Commission meeting that supervisors allowed them to. Prosecutors have declined to charge four officers who were investigated by the department for allegedly filing for overtime they didn’t work.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi speaks during a press conference announcing new COVID-19 informational banners that will installed along Kalakaua Avenue. February 11, 2021
Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s office didn’t respond to an interview request. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Overall, former Mayor Kirk Caldwell granted HPD over $40 million in CARES Act funds – about 10% of the city’s total allocation.

The city’s budget office asked HPD for documentation to justify the spending decisions by Monday, the email shows. It did not say in the email whether Treasury officials are interested only in HPD’s spending or the city as a whole.

Civil Beat asked for interviews with Ballard and Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration to discuss the audit.

The mayor’s office did not respond.

Ballard’s spokeswoman Michelle Yu confirmed that HPD is providing information to the city budget office but declined to provide any further information.

“In response to a request from the city’s Department of Budget and Fiscal Services, the HPD is providing the BFS with documents relating to several CRF expenditures,” she said in an email, referring to Coronavirus Relief Funds. “Sorry, no further information is being released at this time.”

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