Critics believe that federal funds given out to increase homeland security have been spent unwisely in some states but it's hard to tell if Colorado is one of them because state law allows Colorado agencies to keep homeland security spending secret.
Colorado has been granted $122 million, but it is not known how much money has gone to buy gyms and hire personal trainers for some volunteer firefighters in Estes Park.
Sure, some fire departments have also spent the money buying bio-hazard suits, using it for advanced training, and buying anthrax protection but it is not known which departments are using it for legitimate reasons and which ones are not.
Estes Park officials defended the purchases.
"You're asking firefighters to risk their lives every day," said Fire Chief Scott Dorman. "I think we have an obligation ... to make sure our firefighters are healthy."
Colorado lawmakers say releasing the full financial records could compromise security if terrorists got hold of those documents.
Colorado's first-responders asked state lawmakers last year to define records that would show what agencies purchase with anti-terrorism grants as specialized details of security arrangements. That makes the records exempt from public disclosure.
About two-thirds of states have passed similar rules against disclosure.
In states that do allow the public to view the information, researchers have found that some firefighters and police agencies spent anti-terrorism money unwisely.
The Washington Post
reported that a prosecutor installed an office security system, another agency used anti-terrorism funds to pay janitorial bills, a police department outfitted its officers with leather jackets, and another department delayed buying specialized gas masks for its officers in order to buy a $500,000 digital camera system for mug shots.
The Des Moines Register
found that Iowa agencies spent anti-terrorism money on traffic cones, paper shredders, work gloves, rubber boots and a wall clock with a hidden camera for a director's office.
Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Denver, sponsored the law about disclosure and said it is being misinterpreted. He called an opinion from the state attorney general's office barring the release of the records "overly broad."
Those who support keeping the records private say security would be compromised if the records were disclosed.
"I think we need to be very careful that we don't provide a blueprint for anyone that might do us harm," said Suzanne Mencer, former leader of Colorado's Department of Public Safety and the current director of the national Department of Homeland Security Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness.
"If states have identified where they want to put funding, that's an indication of what might be weaker than another spot," Mencer said. "So we don't want those kinds of things known publicly."
Others question the state's lack of disclosure.
"We're talking about a very significant amount of money, and the mandate is so amorphous as to what constitutes 'homeland security' that there is a real potential for a lack of oversight or corruption," said Paul F. Campos, a constitutional law professor.
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