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Ohio lawmakers seek to pass $250M to fund police, other first-responders

Funded by federal COVID aid, the measure would help fight crime and recruit, said Gov. DeWine

mike dewine ohio governor

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks Monday in the Ohio Statehouse atrium about a proposal to use 50 million in federal coronavirus relief money to provide grants to police and other first-responders, as well as fund efforts to improve their wellness.

Jeremy Pelzer

By Jeremy Pelzer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers said Monday they plan to move this week to approve the use of $250 million in federal coronavirus aid to provide grants to police and other first responders.

During a Statehouse press conference with law enforcement officials, lawmakers, and local officials, Gov. Mike DeWine outlined and touted the plan, saying the money would help law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, and other first responders recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, recruit new members, and help police more effectively fight crime.

“This is clearly not the time to defund the police,” said DeWine, a Greene County Republican seeking re-election next year. “This is the time to fund the police and to fund them in new and creative ways that helps them protect us against the violent offenders.”

Under the proposal, the state would dole out $175 million in grants via a competitive process to first-responders across the state. The recipients would have few restrictions in how they spend the money, DeWine said, though it would help them focus on things such as policing high-crime areas and collaboration with other departments across jurisdictions.

Part of that money would also help state and local crime labs and coroners’ offices clear up backlogs that have increased because of the pandemic, DeWine said.

The other $75 million would go toward programs designed to improve the wellness of first-responders, including suicide prevention training. A “good portion” of the money would also go toward recruiting and retaining first responders by providing tuition assistance to students and cadets who can’t afford the cost of basic training.

[RELATED: Ohio governor launches Office of First Responder Wellness]

Some of the funding would also go toward improving community-police relations, which have deteriorated in recent years due to high-profile police-involved shootings. Those police-caused deaths have led many activists to call for “defunding the police, a movement that doesn’t necessarily mean abolishing the police but rather for redirecting money from municipal budgets from policing to social services that address the underlying causes of crime.

The “defund the police” movement has gained little traction in Ohio so far; last year, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson called it a “completely unrealistic” approach to solving institutional racism and inequity.

State Rep. Al Cutrona, a Mahoning County Republican, said state legislators anticipate adding the proposed $250 million to House Bill 169, which would provide grants to bars, restaurants, and hotels hurt by the pandemic. Given that this week is expected to be the last week that state lawmakers will convene before the end of the year, Cutrona said, “our anticipation is to get this out as quickly as possible.”

DeWine also said he is working with Attorney General Dave Yost’s office to give law-enforcement agencies in Ohio easier access to ballistics technology used to help identify people involved in gun crimes.

Right now, the governor said, there are guns and bullet casings in evidence rooms across the state that offer a wealth of information — but they haven’t been analyzed, because the process is cumbersome and complex.

Prior to DeWine’s announcement, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who hopes to take over the governor’s office from DeWine next year, outlined a plan to use federal coronavirus relief money to expand programs to weatherize homes and help lower-income residents pay their heating bills.

Speaking with reporters near the Statehouse, Whaley also called on DeWine to issue executive orders imposing a moratorium on utility shutoffs during the winter months for poorer Ohioans, fund a helpline for Ohioans facing utility shutoffs, increasing eligibility for a state program helping lower-income residents pay their utility bills, and outlaw price gouging to prevent utilities from charging unreasonably high rates.

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