Some of the piles of federal money being dished out as part of this year’s COVID relief bill are slated to begin arriving in the coffers of local and municipal governments this month. This has left mayors and county executives across the country to decide how they will spend this windfall. Many cities and counties experienced huge losses in revenue over the past year, forcing some of them to cut their police budgets during a period when crime of all sorts has been on the rise across the country. This happened even in places where the “defund the police” movement hadn’t grained much traction and it was a less than ideal situation, to say the least. Now, some of the local and municipal executives are looking at taking part of their COVID relief funds and rebuilding their police departments, as is happening in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This has some of the usual suspects up in arms, and I’m sure you know who I mean. (NBC News)
After months of calling for cuts in police budgets, activists in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were dismayed to hear about Mayor Tim Keller’s plan for the $56 million in Covid-19 relief on its way from Washington.
In April, Keller proposed earmarking more than 15 percent of the funds for the Albuquerque Police Department: $3 million to expand a gunshot detection system, $5 million to refurbish station houses, $1 million for new cars and $450,000 to recruit more officers. A Keller spokesman said this week that the money was part of a plan “to make our community safer and healthier for everyone.”
The activists found it galling that the city would give stimulus funds to a department that had been under federal oversight for years for chronic use of excessive force and still had one of the country’s highest rates of killings by police.
If you want to make the argument that having COVID relief funds going to shore up police departments is an inappropriate use of the funds because that issue isn’t directly related to the pandemic, I’m not going to argue with you. But if so, you need to also be ready to complain about the other hundreds of billions of dollars that were allocated for everything from climate change to social justice initiatives too. A huge portion of that bloated spending package had absolutely nothing to do with direct relief to those impacted by COVID in various fashions. Also, large portions of the money won’t even be distributed until next year when the pandemic will presumably be well behind us.
Going one step further, as NBC News correctly points out, the entire structure of the relief bill was flawed from the beginning. Vast sums of money were dished out to state, local, and municipal governments, but there were essentially no restrictions on how it must be spent. Sure, Joe Biden issued several “statements” when the bill was signed into law, talking about the areas of greatest need that the money “should” be put toward. But those purposes were not codified anywhere, leaving the local governments to spend it as they pleased.
With all of that said, the reality is that those funds are being fired in a scatter-shot fashion all over the place, frequently toward people and institutions that don’t much resemble any sort of pandemic relief cause. If that’s the case, why not the police departments? While some cities like New York proudly slashed funding to their own cops in response to the demands of activists, others were forced to cut law enforcement budgets because they were simply running out of revenue. And that was generally a direct result of the loss of anticipated tax dollars from businesses that evaporated because of the shutdowns.
All of this debate skips over the underlying issue highlighted in the linked article. These complaints are not coming from people concerned about out-of-control federal spending or the best way to battle COVID. They are coming from activists who hate the police and want to see police forces either defunded or abolished entirely. This was never a popular position from the start, though much of the mainstream media treated it as if it were. But now, given the shocking rise in crime rates being seen in so many places, “defund the police” is a fringe idea at best. Very few people support the concept and it doesn’t even gain anywhere near majority support in communities of color. Everyone is going to be better off in the long run if we just start ignoring these agitators and get on with the nation’s recovery. Based on NBC’s reporting, it looks like that’s happening already.
In DeKalb County, Georgia, officials are considering using stimulus funding for police training and equipment, including drones and automated license plate readers. Financial advisers for Largo, Florida, have recommended using American Rescue Plan money to launch a police body-camera program. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’ll send bonuses to police and other first responders. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has announced a similar plan. Other cities, including Watertown, New York, Westbrook, Maine, and the Connecticut towns of Hamden and North Haven, plan to hire new officers.
We’ve survived eras of out-of-control violent crime in the past, particularly in the ’80s and early ’90s. Eventually, law-abiding (and tax-paying) citizens grow fed up and elect officials who will crack down on the bad guys. The pandemic is certainly complicating such efforts, including the question of funding for law enforcement. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now as we make our way out of this plague. And when some level of normalcy returns, I predict that a lot of liberal elected officials who were singing along with the choir seeking to abolish the police are going to find themselves looking for new employment.