The Perfect Enemy | How Florida used COVID relief to fund law enforcement
October 4, 2022
Read Time:2 Minute

Florida is among the states that used portions of American Rescue Plan Act funding aimed at COVID recovery to shore up police and other law enforcement.

Driving the news: Through ARPA, President Biden gave cities and counties $350 billion to recover from COVID-19 — the largest infusion of federal funding in local governments in almost 40 years.

The big picture: Some $52.6 billion of that $350 billion was categorized as “Revenue Replacement,” a vague catch-all category. And more than half of that money went to projects that mentioned police, law enforcement, courts, jails and prisons, The Marshall Project found.

  • Less than 10% went to “public health.”
  • Biden has pointed to ARPA to show that Democrats aren’t out to defund the police, according to a new Marshall Project report.

Zoom in: Florida got $8.8 billion in ARPA funding. Through a partnership with The Marshall Project, Axios found that:

  • The state budgeted $20 million of the money to build a new Florida National Guard armory in Zephyrhills, “to address capacity impacts related to COVID.” The state claimed the new space will allow the guard to recruit and train 450 new service members. Only $1.8 million has been spent on the project so far.
  • Coral Springs spent $43,000 of its money on ballistic rifle plates, a type of body armor, for fire and EMS workers.
  • Tampa — which had the biggest police department budget increase among America’s largest cities last year — spent $15.6 million of its ARPA money on police salary and benefits, vehicles, aviation maintenance and body cameras for police.

Between the lines: The U.S. Treasury ruled that funds allocated to a city due to a reduction in revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can be used to pay for police equipment, including vehicles, aviation and body cameras.What they’re saying: Coral Springs started purchasing ballistic rifle plates for first responders after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, city spokesperson Lindsey Steinberg told Axios.

  • “In 2022, the department utilized less than 0.3% of the city’s total allocated ARPA funds to upgrade the vests’ ballistic plates to protect against certain rifle ammunition,” Steinberg said. “The funding is also to ensure that we have a replacement plan that follows the manufacturer’s expiration dates.”
  • Tampa Police Department spokesperson Crystal Clark told Axios that ARPA funds helped TPD avoid significant budget cuts by funding “critical department needs.”

The bottom line: There are few limitations on how local governments can allocate ARPA funds, so each municipality gets to decide based on its priorities and values.