Sep 14, 2022 - News

How federal COVID-19 relief funded Ohio police

Illustration of a police officer standing on the highest pile of coins in a row.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Hundreds of millions of dollars were given to Ohio law enforcement agencies in response to the pandemic.

  • But only some of this federal relief went explicitly toward PPE and other health-related needs, according to a new Marshall Project report.

Driving the news: The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) gave local governments and police departments $350 billion to recover from COVID-19 the largest infusion of federal funding in local governments in almost 40 years.

Why it matters: The president has used ARPA as a key talking point against right wing accusations that Democrats want to defund the police.

The big picture: Through a partnership with The Marshall Project, Axios found that much of this spending is categorized as "revenue replacement," a "vague catch-all" allowing communities to recoup lost funding.

  • Less than 10% went to "public health."

State of play: Ohio received over $10 billion in ARPA funding, split between the state and local governments.

  • Columbiana County, near the Pennsylvania border, is an example of a small government that's used the relief funding for public health needs.
  • Facing an influx of crime and ill equipped for a deadly pandemic, the county  purchased courthouse cleaning supplies, built jail pods for social distancing and installed a fridge to store vaccines for those incarcerated.

Elsewhere, much of the statewide law enforcement funding paid for salaries, bonuses, officer recruitment and new equipment ranging from police cruisers to weaponry.

  • Departments said these purchases were necessary to combat a rise in crime resulting from the pandemic.

Yes, but: Other examples of relief spending appear wholly unrelated to the pandemic.

  • Hamilton County is using $150,000 to help relocate a Cincinnati police firing range that has bothered residents for over 70 years.
  • Reynoldsburg police received $46,500 to expand their parking lot, while Painesville spent $3,300 on speed detector equipment.
DeWine opposed ARPA, champions its spending

In March 2021, Gov. Mike DeWine said he probably wouldn't have supported the ARPA legislation.

Yes, but: DeWine has been front and center in championing police spending funded by the very same relief bill he once opposed.

What's happening: Federal relief money is funneled through the state government, and the governor is taking full advantage.

  • DeWine's office routinely issues press releases trumpeting projects he has "awarded" that are funded by ARPA.
  • In the latest example, Monday's release titled "Governor DeWine Awards $1.67 Million for First Responder Wellness," takes 775 words before the money's origin is revealed.
  • Biden and Congress go unmentioned the release states only that the ARPA funding was "dedicated" by DeWine and the GOP-led legislature.

Flashback: DeWine appeared with law enforcement officers at a press conference last December to announce a large chunk of ARPA police spending.

  • But the governor used the opportunity to bash Democrats as wanting to defund the police:
Via Twitter

What they're saying: The governor's opposition to ARPA was due to inflationary concerns, spokesman Dan Tierney tells Axios.

  • The state is spending its share so that unused portions aren't diverted to other Democratic-led states, he adds.
  • Tierney says the governor's office is "transparent about [ARPA spending] in press releases to be sure the public knows these dollars are being properly spent."
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