Stemming from recent economic uncertainty, 2021 saw a massive mobilization of federal funding geared towards mitigating the broad range of effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic. In addition to disruptions to employment, supply chains, and medical care, the pandemic brought with it a rising violent crime rate, putting further strain on law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Along with taxing law enforcement resources, this rise in violent crime and shifting public perceptions of policing have contributed to rising levels of stress and burnout felt by officers.
With talks on a larger police reform bill not yielding results yet, lawmakers sought to find manageable areas of agreement on more targeted provisions structured to address the pressing needs of law enforcement leaders and officers. Those pieces of legislation from 2021 and the funding they provide have now or are beginning to take effect – with critical funding arriving for research into structural issues in law enforcement and more current needs. What follows are some of the most notable examples of recently distributed funding for law enforcement from 2021.
The American Rescue Plan
Signed into law on March 11, 2021, The American Rescue Plan Act was a $1.9 trillion bill created to mitigate the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with stimulus spending and grants. The funding in the bill covered a vast range of spending priorities related to the pandemic, building upon the mission of the CARES Act of 2020 and covering everything from direct stimulus payments to small business loans and grants. The American Rescue Act included $350 billion of financial support that, in part, is designated for “state, locals, territorial, and, tribal governments to… put more officers on the beat”.
The funding was included in response to rising violent crime rates since the start of the pandemic, acknowledging a need for comprehensive strategies and coordinated resources to fight the surge. Below are just a few examples taken from a 2021 White House memo highlighting initiatives that will be or already are funded by the law.
- Tucson, Arizona plans to invest at least $7 million in community safety, health and wellness, and violence interruption programs
- Albuquerque, New Mexico is putting $3 million towards gunshot detection technology and using $450,000 for programs designed to bolster recruiting
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is dedicating $1.3 million in support of evidence-based violence interruption programs and an additional $3 million towards Transitional Jobs Programs
- Walla Walla, Washington and Kansas City, Missouri are using portions of their federal funding to support new police hires and restore police staffing to pre-pandemic levels.
Investing in COPS
In November of 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced $139 million in grant funding from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), specifically designated for increasing law enforcement hiring. The funding comes via COPS Hiring Program (CHP) and is to be used to hire an additional 1,066 law enforcement professionals. As of November, 183 agencies have been awarded grants through this program, with funds being used to support programs designed to improve community trust in law enforcement and to promote the hiring of new officers to confront rising crime rates.
COPS was formed in 1994 to advance community policing in the United States. Since its founding, it has invested more than $14 billion towards that mission. Looking ahead in 2022, current budget proposals call for at least $1.3 billion in reform-related grants and spending across many agencies and initiatives, representing a 78% year-over-year increase. Notably, this budget proposal currently before legislators seeks $388 million for CHP grants, more than doubling the 2021 funding levels. While legislators have not yet agreed to these funding levels, they suggest that federal funding for recruitment efforts is a priority.
Resources for Officer and Family Wellness
Coinciding with news of the 2021 CHP grant awards was the signing of three bipartisan bills that provide additional resources to support law enforcement officers and leaders. With discussions of broader police reform measures currently paused, these laws addressed key issues facing law enforcement officers and their families.
The Protecting First Responders Act of 2021 funds substantial improvements to the Public Safety Officers Benefit administered by the DOJ. The bill provided benefits of $370,000 and ongoing education assistance of $1,200 to the spouse or children of first responders who die or are permanently disabled in the line of duty. Before the Act was passed, disabled first responders could only receive benefits if they could never again perform compensated work. This law amends that provision to account for therapeutic work or work providing special accommodation for a first responder’s disability. Additionally, the law ties interim death benefits to the consumer price index so that new adjustments do not have to be enacted to compensate for inflation.
Also signed into law in November was the Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act. Recognizing the value of peer counseling in law enforcement, the law provides confidentiality for federal law enforcement officers participating in peer support programs (except in cases of officers admitting to committing crimes). Peer counseling programs are consistently shown to be a highly effective resource for reducing burnout and increasing officer wellness. Confidentiality is a crucial component to building trust, rapport, and buy-in from participants in these problems and contributes significantly to removing perceived stigmas when seeking help.
Lastly, the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act provides financial resources to ensure that anyone who might kill federal law enforcement officers and staff while on duty abroad can be brought to justice in the jurisdiction of the United States. The law is named for two U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Special Agents who, in 2011, were killed in the line of duty while serving abroad in anti-drug trafficking operations. The law is designed to help give comfort and resolution to the surviving family members of those who gave their lives in service by ensuring those who attacked their loved ones can be fully prosecuted in U.S. courts.
As law enforcement strives to meet the challenges of 21st century policing, it is clear that evidence-based programs and support structures are necessary to ensure that officers can fulfill their mission of combating violent crime and increasing community engagement. In 2021, policymakers targeted funding and resources to address some of the most pressing concerns in the profession and provide forward-looking funding for new measures designed to provide lasting support to officers and the communities they serve.