Sep 22, 2022 - News

COVID relief funds paid for a Mesa surveillance center and other AZ police programs

Illustration of a police officer standing on the highest pile of coins in a row.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Mesa allocated $3.3 million of federal pandemic relief funds to create a citywide crime surveillance program called the Real Time Crime Center.

  • The center allows officers to use security cameras on roads and in public spaces to have virtual eyes around the city.

How it works: Detective Richard Encinas tells Axios Phoenix the center is used to deliver information to police in real time, allowing them to quickly identify and apprehend criminals and respond to "suspicious activity."

  • He says center operators witnessed a serious rollover vehicle accident at the intersection of Stapley Drive and Southern Avenue recently and were able to deploy police and fire officials to the scene before a witness called in the accident, saving "precious minutes."
  • Glendale operates a similar program.
Side-by-side photos of a room with large computer screens.
Mesa's Real Time Crime Center. Photos: City of Mesa

State of play: Mesa is one of hundreds of cities across the nation, including many others in Arizona, that are using some of the funds they received from the American Rescue Plan Act to supplement their law enforcement operations.

  • Cities and counties across the country received $350 billion total through ARPA and have allocated about $101 billion so far.
  • The money was meant to help alleviate the impacts of the pandemic, but few limitations were put on local governments, so municipalities are using it for a range of projects, Axios Phoenix found through a partnership with the Marshall Project.

Zoom in: Many Arizona cities allocated the funds to pay for police officer salaries or bonuses.

  • Phoenix dedicated $29 million for up to $2,000 in bonuses for full-time essential employees, including officers.
  • Chandler allocated $750,00 toward hiring incentives for sworn police officers, detention officers and dispatchers.
  • Scottsdale plans to spend all $29 million it received to pay for police and fire operations.

Zoom out: A new Marshall Project report found that localities across the country have allocated around $52.6 billion so far for "revenue replacement," a vague catch-all category.

  • Nearly half of that went to projects that mentioned police, law enforcement, courts, jails and prisons.

Between the lines: President Biden is embracing the law enforcement spending and using it as evidence that Democrats don't want to defund the police.

Of note: Cities and counties also allocated hundreds of millions of dollars on other categories that don't directly relate to the pandemic.

  • Phoenix will spend up to $10 million on the rehabilitation of its 27th Avenue Recycling Facility.
  • Maricopa County allocated $3 million to improve drinking water infrastructure at county parks.

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