Navigation
  •  

Police using COVID relief funds on drones, armored vehicles

A police Lenco BearCat armored vehicle. (Photo by Edward Kimmel, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
March 31, 2022

Police departments across the country are using funds allocated under the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act Act (ARPA) on new equipment like armored vehicles and “military-grade” drones.

VICE News first reported Tuesday exposing how various U.S. police departments had put ARPA funds towards their equipment.

On March 3, the Kingsport Police Department in Tennessee announced it spent $104,900 in ARPA funds on “military-grade drones designed and built specifically to use inside of buildings.” The funds also went towards 10 custom communications headsets for its SWAT team, 75 holster adapters, eight mobile radar units, 150 trauma kits for treating gunshot wounds and an unspecified number of new uniforms and security cameras.

DeKalb County, Ga. similarly used ARPA funds on new police drones last summer. The county, located in the Atlanta metropolitan area, specifically allocated about $38,650 for two aerial drones. Funds also went to 10 automated license plate readers and 10 other license plate readers.

The Dixon County City Council in California is also considering using $163,000 in ARPA funds for a police drone program, $211,000 for police body-worn cameras and $163,000 for a license plate reader program.

Other police departments looked to purchase bigger-ticket items like armored vehicles.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri spent $$334,715 (about 9 percent of its $2.6 million ARPA funds) on a Lenco BearCat armored vehicle, Missourian.com reported earlier this month. The new armored vehicle replaces a 60,000 pound (30 ton) mine-resistant armored vehicle already in the department’s fleet.

Butler County in Pennsylvania similarly spent $330,000 on a Ghurka armored vehicle, Butler Radio reported in December.

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners approved $250,000 in ARPA funding for a BearCat armored vehicle, WFIN reported this month.

President Joe Biden’s administration primarily described ARPA as a package to provide economic stimulus to the country following the COVID-19 pandemic and pandemic-related business closures. Biden did not preclude police from spending those funds on new equipment though and had, in fact, has repeatedly encouraged such spending.

At a Gun Violence Prevention Task Force Meeting in February, Biden said, “I want more cities and states to use some of the $350 billion we sent to them on the American Rescue Plan to fight crime, to keep our communities safe by hiring more police officers for community policing and paying police overtime and purchasing gun-fighting technologies, like technologies that hears, locates gunshots so there can be immediate response because you know exactly where it came from.”

While the Biden administration has encouraged local governments to use ARPA funds for policing, proponents of defunding the police have criticized him. Earlier this month, TruthOut published an OpEd titled “When Biden Says “Fund the Police,” It Should Spur Our Efforts to Defund Them.”

An activist referred to only as Jasmine, told Vice News that ARPA funds demonstrate there is plenty of money for people “it is just being spent in ways that are antagonistic to working class Americans.” Jasmine told the publication that “the government at this point is honestly preparing for war and retaliation against the working class.”

ARPA passed with zero supporting votes from Republican lawmakers in the House or Senate. Only one Democrat lawmaker in the House voted against the bill, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME).