Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and state lawmakers recently submitted a proposal to direct $250 million in COVID-relief aid money into grants for law enforcement agencies amidst an increase in homicides and violent crime.
The proposal would earmark $175 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to go towards fighting violent crime and another $75 million to go to job stress management resources and employee retention efforts.
The move comes after President Biden first suggested using the relief aid to fund law enforcement.
Under the proposal, law enforcement agencies can apply to receive grant funds for these specified use-cases.
DeWine explained the damaging effect the pandemic has had on law enforcement at a recent news conference.
“Although we have done much to help law enforcement fight crime in Ohio, COVID-19 brought about new challenges for first responders,” the Ohio governor said. “Challenges that further depleted their ranks and influences a troubling increase in violent crime.”
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the funding plan will be introduced as part of House Bill 169, which also contains proposals to set aside COVID funds for pandemic-impacted businesses.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Al Cutrona and D.J. Swearingen, also urges law enforcement to add more crime labs to facilitate homicide investigations.
Supporters claim the grants are more flexible than other programs, and are open to all agencies regardless of size.
“Many of these grant programs are so restrictive that they might need resources at their department but they’re unable to qualify,” Republican Sen. Nathan Manning said. “There’s a lot of diverse needs out there for departments and they’ll be able to apply no matter what their need is.”
The grants will mainly target areas that address violent crime, which has risen significantly over the past few years. Experts believe the increase in violence is largely due to the social and economic effects of COVID-19.
The FBI reported 21,570 homicides in 2020, roughly a 30% increase from 2019. The trend in 2021 has been more of the same, and Ohio has also seen its fair share of violence.
The city of Columbus, for example, will set another one-year record high for homicides at 182 this year. Akron, too, has hit an all-time-high for the city with 56 homicides. Meanwhile, Cincinnati experienced its third-worst year for homicides in 2021 with 81 after experiencing a record high of 94 in 2020.
DeWine acknowledged the political polarization over police funding the past few years, but doubled down on the side of law enforcement.
“When it comes to law enforcement, these past two years have been difficult,” said DeWine. “This is clearly not the time to defund the police. This is the time to fund the police.”