Jun 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The budget strain of the George Floyd protests

Illustration of money falling out of a wallet with a police badge
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Cities and states have spent millions of dollars on police overtime over the past few weeks during the Black Lives Matter protests.

Why it matters: Government budgets already were under severe strain from coronavirus shutdowns, due to steep tax revenue declines, and these extra expenses could make it even more difficult to meet obligations.

By the numbers: The Dallas Police Department tells Axios it spent $1.5 million in extra staff and equipment costs during the first three days of BLM protests.

  • Nashville's police department spent an estimated $2.3 million just on police overtime since May 30, it tells Axios.
  • The Miami Police Department has spent more than $1.8 million on police overtime so far since May 29 due to police brutality demonstrations, a spokesperson tells Axios.
  • Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said last Friday that he had hoped to save on police overtime from most large events being cancelled because of coronavirus, but "unfortunately that’s not the case because of the protests.”
  • Some cities with some of the largest protests, including New York, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, didn't respond to Axios' requests for numbers.

At the state level, the California Highway Patrol spent more than $38 million on its response to the protest — mostly overtime costs — in addition to the $25 million Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration reportedly spent to deploy National Guard troops.

  • Several states, including Arkansas, Virginia, and Georgia, declared states of emergency, unlocking emergency funds and activating the National Guard.

Even some small towns are facing these unexpected expenses.

  • Police overtime for protests is costing Lake County, Indiana roughly $80,000 per day.
  • Lake Havasu City in Arizona reportedly spent around $45,000 to police one BLM protest.
  • In Sonora, California — which has a population of less than 5,000 — officials imported police from neighboring counties, which could cost upwards of $20,000.

But, but, but: It is unclear how much of this spending was necessary, given arguments that there has been too much police equipment at some protests.

The big picture: "Defund the police" has been a rallying cry for protesters who want to redirect significant parts of police budgets toward community services.

  • Overall municipal budgets, including police budgets, already are being cut. So even if 20% of a fiscal 2021 police budget is reallocated, it may be fewer real dollars than it would have been just three months ago.
  • Protest-related costs added to coronavirus shutdowns will "create a serious budgeting issue" for many cities and states, said Diane Goldstein, chair of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
  • She adds that law enforcement in many small cities makes up a very large percentage of their total budgets, and that "there's huge pressure, and rightfully so" to reevaluate law enforcement spending.

Other costs: Some cities, such as Boston, set up free COVID-19 testing sites near protests. And all protest sites resulted in extra sanitation costs, while some had extra fire and rebuild expenses due to fires.

The bottom line: Police brutality and the following protests are further straining state and local budgets, while many already wait on needed federal aid following coronavirus shutdowns.

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