When the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed in 2021, White House officials were explicit: the $350 billion promised by the legislation was to be used by state and local governments to ensure sustainable, equitable, and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. For communities of color hit hardest by both the pandemic and decades of socioeconomic inequality, it was a chance to build the kind of basic local infrastructure—schools, jobs, and other resources—that build public safety.
Vera has laid out exactly how ARPA money can fund community violence interventions, diversion and mental health treatment programs, and reentry support, all of which reduce the burden we place on police, jails, and courts to address social needs. These strategic investments in public safety are both more effective and cost-efficient than punitive ones. Data consistently shows that increasing police budgets has no meaningful impact on crime rates. Public safety cannot simply be policed into existence; instead, it must be affirmatively created through investment in communities.
But although more than $10 billion in ARPA funds has already been committed to “public safety” nationally, precious few of those dollars have actually gone to community services that prevent crime and make us safer. Instead, cities have doubled down on already-bloated police budgets. About 50 percent of ARPA funds distributed to Los Angeles went directly to the police budget. In Chicago and Oakland, that number was at least 60 percent.
New Orleans is poised to make the same mistake. The city government is distributing its ARPA money in two waves, called tranches. In the first tranche, it’s committed $22 million to police spending with no additional investment in preventive services. But Mayor LaToya Cantrell is set to announce the second tranche of spending this month, which will then be voted on by the city council.
Vera Louisiana and other local organizers sent a letter to Mayor Cantrell and city council members today demanding that the city invest as much ARPA money in community-based support systems that prevent crime upstream as it does in policing. The letter lays out exactly how that investment should be made, citing specific programs that have demonstrated the ability to meet the needs of New Orleanians and ultimately build a safer city.
“Policing and prosecution come onto the scene after crime and harm have already occurred. We simply want the city to meaningfully and robustly invest in services that prevent crime and keep New Orleanians safe,” said Sarah Omojola, associate director of Vera’s Louisiana office. “Unless we start investing at least the same amount into community services as we do into punitive responses, we will never be safe or escape this cycle of overpolicing and mass incarceration.”
If the criminal legal system—from arrests and courts to …….