[News] California cities spent huge share of federal Covid relief funds on police

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 7 12:40:20 EDT 2022


theguardian.com
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/apr/07/covid-relief-funds-california-cities-police>
California cities spent huge share of federal Covid relief funds on police
Sam Levin - April 7. 2022
------------------------------

Big cities in California <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/california>
spent large portions of their federal Covid relief money on police
departments, a review of public records has revealed, with several cities
prioritizing police funding by a wide margin.

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/10/covid-us-house-biden-coronavirus-relief-stimulus>
(Arpa), the Biden administration’s signature stimulus package, the US
government sent funds to cities to help them fight 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,
healthcare workers’ salaries, infrastructure investments and aid for small
businesses.

But most large California cities spent millions of Arpa dollars on law
enforcement. Some also gave police money from the Coronavirus
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/coronavirus-outbreak> Aid, Relief and
Economic Security (Cares) Act, adopted in 2020 under Donald Trump. The
records show:

   -

   *San Francisco* received $312m in Arpa funds for fiscal year 2020 and
   allocated 49% ($153m) to police, 13% ($41m) to the sheriff’s department,
   and the remainder to the fire department, according to the city controller.
   San Francisco also gave roughly 22% ($38.5m) of its Cares funds to law
   enforcement.
   -

   *Los Angeles* spent
   <https://twitter.com/kennethmejiaLA/status/1503423229305655296?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1503423229305655296%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.lataco.com%2Fcovid-relief-fund-paid-lapd%2F>
   roughly 50% of its first round of Arpa relief funds on the LAPD
   <https://www.lataco.com/covid-relief-fund-paid-lapd/>, according to a
   public records <https://lacity.nextrequest.com/requests/22-2360> request
   by the controller candidate Kenneth Mejia, and first reported
   <https://www.lataco.com/covid-relief-fund-paid-lapd/> in local news site
   LA Taco.
   -

   *Fresno* spent $36.6m of its Cares funds on the police, making up 67% of
   Cares spending on city salaries, and roughly 40% of all of Fresno’s Cares
   funds.
   -

   *San Jose* allocated roughly $27.8m of its Cares and Arpa funds to
   police salaries and the police dispatch department, representing about 12%
   of its relief money.
   -

   *Long Beach* allocated
   <https://longbeach.gov/globalassets/city-manager/media-library/documents/lb-recovery-act/recovery-plan_city-of-long-beach-2021>
   the majority of its $135.8 million Arpa funds to police, though a
   spokesperson said a detailed breakdown of funds was not available.
   -

   *Oakland* allocated $5m (13.5%) of its Cares funds to police salaries;
   *Sacramento* allocated $2.2m (2.5%) of Cares funds to police; and *San
   Diego* spent roughly $60.1m (64%) of its Cares funds on police in fiscal
   year 2020, and $52.6m (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 prioritized
police and executed their budgets.

In Fresno, the city allocated more than double of its Cares money to police
than it did to Covid testing, contact tracing, small business grants,
childcare vouchers, transitional housing and small business grants
combined. Oakland’s police allocation was greater than the amounts spent on
a housing initiative
<https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/oakland-cares-act-keep-oakland-housed-outcomes>,
a small business grant program
<https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/oakland-cares-act-small-business-grant-program>
and a workforce initiative
<https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/oakland-cares-act-workforce-support-programs>.
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 allocating 100% of its Arpa funds to police, a
spokesperson said $11.8m of those funds were now going to direct relief
grants and that a portion was also supporting the city’s parks and marine
departments.

Officials from Oakland and Anaheim both said that their Arpa awards were
used as “revenue replacement” for their general fund, and said it was not
possible to specify where the federal money went (though both cities
typically spend large portions of their overall budgets on police, with
Oakland going $22m over budget last year). A Bakersfield representative
said $13.6m in Cares funds went to public safety, but did not specify how
much of that went to police.

Cities have explained their spending on police in a number of ways. In a
report
<https://longbeach.gov/globalassets/city-manager/media-library/documents/lb-recovery-act/recovery-plan_city-of-long-beach-2021>
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 vaccination sites.

Stephen Walsh, Oakland’s controller, said that claiming Cares funds for the
police was an “accounting strategy” and that the relief money wasn’t used
to expand law enforcement, but rather to avoid cuts. He said this allowed
the city to “pursue a great variety of worthy projects directed at Covid
relief”. A spokesperson for the LA controller also said the Arpa funds were
used for LAPD revenue that had previously been budgeted, and a
representative for the LA city administrative officer said allocations for
“public safety services” were “consistent with the intent of the funds”.

Hillary Ronen, a member of the board of supervisors in San Francisco, noted
that there were minimum staffing needs for the fire department and police,
and that Covid cases in those departments forced cities to spend large
amounts on public safety overtime. But she also said she appreciated the
criticisms of the law enforcement allocations and that she wanted to see
San Francisco invest in alternatives to police: “Over time, I do hope to
shrink the budget of the police department.”

Cities using relief funds for police have typically funneled the money to
salaries, although The Appeal recently reported
<https://theappeal.org/covid-funds-police-prisons-arpa/> that some
jurisdictions were using stimulus dollars to buy new surveillance
technology and build new prisons.
‘Cities hide their police spending’

The data in California matches national trends. After the George Floyd
uprisings sparked a national debate about the role of law enforcement and
calls for the US to “defund the police” and reinvest those dollars in
services
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/07/us-cities-defund-police-transferring-money-community>,
local governments across the US used Covid relief
<https://theappeal.org/covid-funds-police-prisons-arpa/> to maintain and
expand law enforcement, including Chicago
<https://www.wbez.org/stories/activists-slam-chicago-mayor-lori-lightfoot-for-directing-millions-in-covid-19-relief-money-to-police/1570442b-927f-46bc-9717-a2763649910e>,
Philadelphia
<https://whyy.org/articles/a-significant-chunk-of-phillys-cares-act-money-is-paying-for-police-and-prisons/>
and the state of Alabama
<https://whnt.com/news/alabama-news/how-will-alabama-spend-772-million-in-covid-relief-funds/>.
Meanwhile, the pressure to invest more in police is growing amid a rise in
homicides and other crimes, even as the crime rate remains significantly
lower than previous decades.

The significant stimulus spending on police reflects the longstanding
budget priorities in the US, where police spending has tripled over the
last 40 years
<https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-04/america-s-policing-budget-has-nearly-tripled-to-115-billion>,
with cities spending an increasing portion
<https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/12/upshot/cities-grew-safer-police-budgets-kept-growing.html>
of their general funds on officers. Arpa allowed cities to replace lost
revenue, so many of them funneled the relief to the agencies that
previously received the most money.

But in California, a state with severe income inequality and a dramatically
worsening homelessness crisis
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/22/california-homelessness-crisis-unhoused-and-unequal>,
the stimulus spending has sparked backlash from community organizers who
argue that the funds should have gone directly to civilians and that police
should have accepted cuts.

“It was called the ‘American Rescue Plan’, but you’re telling me that what
needed to be rescued was the police department?” said Stephen “Cue”
Jn-Marie, a pastor and activist at Skid Row in LA. “The city’s kneejerk
reaction is always to use law enforcement to respond to everything … and
the police forces keep getting larger.”

“When the money is going toward law enforcement again, it’s just
increasingly criminalizing those that need the most help,” said Hope
Williams, an activist in San Francisco, referencing the escalating police
crackdown
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/22/california-homelessness-crisis-unhoused-and-unequal>
on unhoused people suffering from addiction in the city. Williams, who has
sued the police department over its treatment of protesters, added, “It’s
exhausting and infuriating, but not surprising.”

James Burch, policy director at the Anti Police-Terror Project, a coalition
that organizes against police violence in Oakland, said it was frustrating
how hard it was to get basic information on stimulus spending: “Cities like
Oakland do everything they can to hide how much money they spend on
policing, because if the public truly knew how much we spend on police and
how little we spend on services, they would be infuriated.”

In LA, the Arpa spending plan was not publicized until Kenneth Mejia, an
accountant and advocate running for controller, filed a public records
request with the current controller. Some other cities’ public reports have
not directly mentioned police at all, categorizing the expenditures under
“government services” or “payroll”.

“It’s shocking and not at all transparent,” said Mejia, who has also
uncovered <https://twitter.com/kennethmejiaLA/status/1506348232338681857>
how cannabis business taxes
<https://www.phi.org/thought-leadership/california-cannabis-tax-revenues-a-windfall-for-law-enforcement-or-an-opportunity-for-healing-communities/>
go to police. He further noted that LAPD was getting the funding at a time
in 2021 when many of the department’s employees
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/16/california-police-prison-guards-vaccination-rates>
were declining to get vaccinated, with officers routinely caught on camera
refusing to wear masks. “A city’s spending is representative of a city’s
values … and you think that Covid relief money is going to help people, but
it’s not. It’s going to police.”
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