Los Angeles gave police nearly half of the city’s COVID relief funds

And it wasn’t the only city to use stimulus money to boost its force.

Los Angeles, CA, Tuesday, June 2, 2020 - LAPD officer Decote watches for people tossing debris from ...
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

In 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill that was ostensibly meant to deliver direct relief to people and small businesses hit hardest by the COVID pandemic. The city of Los Angeles received nearly $640 million of that money — and according to Controller candidate and certified public accountant Kenneth Mejia, about half of it ended up going to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The L.A. Office of the City Controller, the city’s accountant, released a report last year showing how funds from the American Rescue Plan were to be used. It didn’t mention the LAPD once, per a report from local publication L.A. Taco, and the information reportedly came from a proposed budget rather than reflecting how the money was actually spent.

Mejia noticed some gaps in the report and filed a public record request with the city to find out where those relief funds actually went. The answer: $317.4 million was spent on “general government services (LAPD's payroll expenditures)," Mejia tweeted.

L.A. isn’t alone in funneling relief funds into the coffers of cops. While the city sent massive amounts of cash into the LAPD payroll to pay officer salaries, expenditures spiked across the country. Albuquerque spent $3 million on a gunshot tracking system that isn’t actually effective. Honolulu bought its cops a $150,000 robot dog to monitor unhoused populations. In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers pushed to use federal funds to create $5,000 signing bonuses to recruit new officers.

It should be deeply embarrassing to these cities and states that money that could have been used to care for their most vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic instead went to law enforcement — especially when those agencies are some of the most well-funded in the country. But it’s difficult to place the blame squarely on local governments; they’re just doing what the Biden administration told them to do. In a memo sent to state and local officials, the White House encouraged them to use the funds to “put more police officers on the beat.” They heeded the call.

So, not only are we not defunding the police, but we’re also actively choosing to bolster their forces over taking care of people who need the most help — the same people who are more likely to be on the receiving end of unwanted police interactions. Vulnerable communities aren’t getting the hand up they need; they’re getting a boot pressed down on them.