Big cities in California spent much of their federal Covid relief money on policing, a review of public records found, with several cities prioritizing police funding by a wide margin.
Under the American Rescue Plan Act (Arpa), the Biden administration’s flagship stimulus package, the US government sent funds to cities to help them fight the coronavirus and support local recovery efforts. The money, officials said, could be used to fund a range of services, including public health and housing initiatives, salaries for healthcare workers, infrastructure investments and support for small businesses.
But most major California cities have spent millions of Arpa dollars on law enforcement. Some have also given police money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act, passed in 2020 under Donald Trump. The records show:
San Francisco received $312 million in Arpa funds for fiscal 2020 and allocated 49% ($153 million) to police, 13% ($41 million) to the sheriff’s department and the rest to firefighters, according to comptroller from the city. San Francisco also gave about 22% ($38.5 million) of its Cares funds to law enforcement.
Los Angeles spent about 50% of his first round of Arpa LAPD relief fundaccording to an audience recordings request of candidate controller Kenneth Mejia, and first reported on the LA Taco local news site.
Fresno spent $36.6 million of its Cares funds on police, which represents 67% of Cares spending on city salaries and about 40% of all Fresno Cares funds.
San Jose has allocated about $27.8 million of its Cares and Arpa funds for police salaries and police dispatch, which is about 12% of its relief funds.
Long Beach assigned the majority of its Arpa funds of $135.8 million to the police, although a spokesperson said a detailed breakdown of the funds was not available.
Oakland allocated $5 million (13.5%) of its Cares funds to police salaries; Sacramento allocated $2.2 million (2.5%) of Cares funds to the police; and San Diego spent approximately $60.1 million (64%) of its Police Cares funds in fiscal year 2020 and $52.6 million (33%) in fiscal year 2021.
The budgeting and reporting process varies by city and is often opaque, making it difficult to compare and analyze how governments have prioritized police and executed their budgets.
In Fresno, the city allocated more than double its Cares money to police than it did for Covid testing, contact tracing, small business grants, child care vouchers and combined transitional housing. The Oakland Police stipend exceeded the amounts spent on a housing initiativesmall business grant program and a workforce initiative. San Jose, meanwhile, spent significantly more on housing services and food programs than on law enforcement. And although Long Beach initially reported that it was directing 100% of its Arpa funds to police, a spokesperson said $11.8 million of those funds now went to direct relief grants and that a part also supported the city’s parks and marine services.
Officials in Oakland and Anaheim both said their Arpa rewards were used as “revenue replacement” for their general fund, and said it was not possible to clarify where the federal money went ( although both cities generally spend a large portion of their overall budget on police). , with Oakland going over budget by $22 million last year). A Bakersfield representative said $13.6 million of Cares funds went to public safety, but did not specify how much of those funds went to police.
Cities explained their police spending in several ways. In a report for the US government, Long Beach said police were “heavily involved in the city’s Covid-19 response,” including opening an emergency operations center and providing security at testing and recovery sites. vaccination.
Oakland Comptroller Stephen Walsh said pushing for Cares funds for police was an “accounting ploy” and relief money was not being used to expand law enforcement, but rather to avoid the cuts. He said it has allowed the city to “pursue a wide variety of worthy projects aimed at Covid relief”. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Comptroller also said that Arpa funds were used for LAPD revenue that had been previously budgeted, and a representative for the City of Los Angeles Administrative Officer said that allowances for “public safety services” were “consistent with the intent of the funds”.
Hillary Ronen, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, noted that there are minimal staffing needs for firefighters and police, and that Covid cases in those departments are forcing cities to spend large sums on public safety overtime. But she also said she appreciates the criticism of law enforcement allocations and wants to see San Francisco invest in alternatives to policing: “Over time, I hope to reduce the budget of the Department of police.”
Cities using police relief funds have generally funneled the money into salaries, though The Appeal recently reported that some jurisdictions were using stimulus funds to buy new surveillance technology and build new prisons.
“Cities hide their police spending”
Data in California matches national trends. After the George Floyd uprisings sparked a national debate over the role of law enforcement and called for the United States to “defund the police” and reinvest those dollars in services, local governments across the United States United used covid relief to maintain and expand law enforcement, including Chicago, philadelphia cream and the state of Alabama. Meanwhile, pressure to invest more in policing is growing amid rising homicides and other crimes, even as the crime rate remains significantly lower than in previous decades.
Significant stimulus spending on police reflects long-standing budget priorities in the United States, where police spending has tripled in the last 40 yearscities spending one increasing portion of their general funds on officers. Arpa allowed cities to replace lost revenue, so many channeled aid to agencies that previously received the most money.
But in California, a state with high income inequality and a dramatically worsening homelessness crisis, the stimulus spending has drawn backlash from community organizers who argue the funds should have gone directly to civilians and that the police should have accepted the cuts.
“It was called the ‘American bailout’, but you’re telling me what had to be saved was the police department?” said Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie, pastor and activist at Skid Row in Los Angeles. “The city’s knee-jerk reaction is always to use law enforcement to respond to everything…and the police force just keeps getting bigger.”
“When the money goes to law enforcement again, it increasingly criminalizes those who need help the most,” said San Francisco activist Hope Williams, referring to the escalating the police crackdown on homeless people with addictions in the city. Williams, who sued the police department over its treatment of protesters, added, “It’s exhausting and infuriating, but not surprising.”
James Burch, political director of the Anti Police-Terror Project, a coalition that organizes against police violence in Oakland, said it was frustrating how difficult it was to get basic information about stimulus spending: ‘Cities like Oakland are doing everything they can to hide how much money they’re spending on policing, because if the public really knew how much we’re spending on policing and how little we’re spending for services, he would be furious.
In LA, Arpa’s spending plan was not made public until Kenneth Mejia, an accountant and attorney running for Comptroller, filed for public registration with the current Comptroller. Public reports from some other cities did not mention the police directly at all, categorizing expenditures as “government services” or “payroll.”
“It’s shocking and not at all transparent,” said Mejia, who also discovered How? ‘Or’ What cannabis taxes for businesses go to the police. He further noted that the LAPD was receiving the funding at a time in 2021 when many department employees were refusing to get vaccinated, with officers being routinely photographed refusing to wear masks. “A city’s spending is representative of a city’s values…and you think Covid relief money is going to help people, but it’s not. It goes to the police.