Jul 27, 2022 - News

Virginia increased police spending in 2020 despite defunding calls

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Skye Witley/Axios

Virginia spent almost $7.6 billion on public safety in 2020, per new U.S. Census Bureau data.

  • The figure includes state and local expenses for police, firefighters, prisons and jails.

What's happening: After a loud debate over calls to defund the police, lawmakers in Virginia made a point to increase public safety spending, approving bonuses and raises for law enforcement.

Zoom in: Police spending increased the most, rising 5% since 2019, according to the Census Bureau's survey.

  • Fire protection and corrections spending increased just under 3% each.

Context: Public safety spending is still dwarfed by total spending in Virginia on public education ($65.1 billion) and social services ($43.1 billion), according to the census.

What they're saying: Much of the increased spending has gone toward increasing law enforcement salaries, Dana Schrad, director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, tells Axios.

  • "One of the biggest things I've seen is the advent of signing bonuses," she says. "That's something we didn't have to do before, but we just don't have that many people going out for jobs in law enforcement."

Of note: As they compete to recruit police officers, some departments are looking outside Virginia.

  • Earlier this month, recruitment ads for the Norfolk Police Department were spotted in New York City subway cars.

What's next: The trend continues. Richmond's latest budget increases starting pay for police officers from $44,000 a year to $51,000.

  • Current officers and firefighters were granted pay bumps between 10% and 15%.
  • "It's clear we have to do more, and this day and age, few public service jobs are harder than being a police officer or firefighter," Mayor Levar Stoney said when he introduced the spending plan earlier this year.

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