Richmond officials weigh in on use of ARPA money for security initiatives after recent shootings | Daily news alerts

RICHMOND — Recent high-profile mass shootings, including a May 24 incident at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead, gave city council members pause to determine whether pandemic funding could be better spent. improve community safety.

Richmond City Council took no action last week, instead providing a consensus that it would prefer to resume talks on Tuesday after an update at council’s meeting last week. Council member James Palmisciano led the request for additional time, saying he believed it was necessary so council members could do their due diligence in considering the best options for the community.

“In light of everything that’s happened in the past week, I think we have an opportunity to go around the wagons so to speak,” Palmisciano said during last week’s meeting.

“It’s worth looking at our schools, seeing how we could use ARPA money to build training and safety and things for our police department to improve how they’re able to respond. when needed, he continued.

For Richmond officials, who have sought to focus on how to spend the community’s $2.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding over the past few weeks, the short timeline is unlikely to have a significant impact, provided all the money is properly allocated and spent. in accordance with federal deadlines.

The council has committed only $174,000 so far to various projects or initiatives, including $46,050 and a matching grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Hiring Program, or COPS; $64,000 for digital police radios; $20,000 to fund a health care advocate position that would coordinate with the Richmond Police Department; $24,000 for computer hardware; and $20,000 for the purchase of equipment for Beaver River Park.

Chief Financial Officer Laura Kenyon said the board-approved projects were all initially included in the department’s 2022-23 fiscal budget requests, but were moved once it was determined they could be funded. with ARPA money.

Some of these grants will already help improve school safety, said Richmond Police Chief Elwood M. Johnson Jr.. With COPS funding, the city will be able to increase police presence on each school property, providing a visible and easily available police resource on site. The health care advocacy component would also aid police responses, officials said, providing a resource to partner with and provide individuals with the appropriate assistance they may need depending on the circumstances.

Palmisciano said he believes the city has the ability to deliver even greater safety improvements, but more time is needed to examine how similar efforts in other communities have fared.

“There are schools and communities [using ARPA money for security] already. I just need more time to be able to watch this and think,” he said.

The council had also previously expressed support for a $75,000 initiative that would fund the hiring of a director of social services and the creation of a department of social services in the city, but that money was not allocated during no vote of the board.

Pamela A. Rohland, chair of the city’s welfare committee, said while it might seem like a significant cost upfront, the benefits of having a social services director would far outweigh the costs over time.

Rohland told council members the new superintendent would be able to provide assistance to struggling residents and directly help address the city’s mental health needs. The director would also serve to take the pressure off local police officers, who Rohland said took it upon themselves to provide assistance to the senior center – including an officer even taking an elderly resident to a medical appointment at rigor.

“If we had a director of social services, he could also help write grant applications to help relieve the police of all the extra work they are doing,” she said. “A dedicated manager who would be able to find out where the spaces are, where the resources are, and help coordinate transportation.”

Council members are expected to resume discussions at their regular meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Richmond City Hall.

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