Lakewood uses expiring grant meant to combat problem gambling on other purchases, including Sea-Doo watercraft

Two years after it received $55,500 to support a program aimed at helping people with gambling addictions, the Lakewood Police Department requested the money be available for other police needs, including the purchase of a Sea-Doo watercraft to patrol Lake Steilacoom.

Lakewood police received the U.S. Department of Justice grant in August 2012 to help fund its role in a larger program that established a gambling court in Pierce County Superior Court. Lakewood was to administer a voice stress test that assessed whether people were lying when asked about gambling.

It took longer than planned to get the program up and running successfully. Afraid of losing the grant money, Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar asked this summer whether it could be available for other services.

That included spending $13,000 to buy the Sea-Doo for the department’s marine unit.

“One thing I’ve been struggling with for years is finding the money to get out on the lakes in the summer time to provide (police) coverage out there,” Farrar said. “We have a boat on American Lake, but it’s hard to get out on Steilacoom lake.”

The Sea-Doo will allow police to respond to incidents faster and have a regular presence on the lake, he said.

If the department hadn’t requested the reallocation, it would have lost roughly $35,000 that remained from the original grant.

It’s not uncommon for grant recipients to ask for money awarded for one purpose to be used for something else, said Jeffrey Felten-Green, state policy adviser for the justice department.

Before that can happen the department must review and approve the reallocation, he said.

In the case of Lakewood, the money it received had to be used for crime prevention. The federal agency approved use of the money for something other than gambling court because it was still within the grant’s guidelines, Felten-Green said.

“Ultimately you’re talking about money that is used for a good cause,” he said.

While the Sea-Doo was the single most expensive purchase, Lakewood also spent roughly $17,000 in its forensics department. That included paying close to $3,000 for two conferences and $14,000 worth of upgrades to software and equipment.

It also spent close to $5,000 for certification tied to its voice stress test analyzer, which it originally planned to use for gambling court.

Similar to the Pierce County Superior Court’s drug court, gambling court was created to help people with gambling addictions.

Proposed by the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling in partnership with Pierce County Alliance and Pierce County Superior Court, gambling court uses the existing resources of drug court.

Twenty people are in the gambling court program, said Maureen Greeley, executive director of the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling.

Many drug court participants also have gambling addictions, said Pierce County Superior Court Judge Thomas Larkin. Larkin has presided over the drug court on and off for the past five years and started a family drug court in 2000.

“We agreed to give it a try because we had seen people within the drug court program that have gambling issues,” Larkin said. “With those issues it made it harder for them to be successful in the program.”

Now that the program is up and running, Greeley said she would like to revisit working with Lakewood Police to administer the voice stress test.

Farrar is open to the idea.

“I think there is some value to it,” he said. “I think there are people out there who have a gambling addiction that aren’t hardened criminals that could benefit from treatment.”