Youngkin’s plan to punish cities that defund police would mostly hit small towns

By: - January 28, 2022 12:05 am

A police car in Richmond, Va. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A budget amendment proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin aims to punish local governments that have reduced funding for police — an idea he railed against on the campaign trail.

But state reports tracking local government spending suggest his plan would mostly limit state support for struggling small-town police departments, where budgets fluctuate from year to year.

“I don’t know of any localities — nobody has done what I’d call a ‘defunding,’” said Dana Schrad, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. “Some may have reduced agency budgets — not in a punitive way, but because they were resource challenged.”

Youngkin introduced the plan in his first address to the General Assembly, asking lawmakers to increase state funding for local departments by $26 million, “but only in localities that are increasing funding for their police departments.”

“We must stand with our law enforcement agencies,” Youngkin said, lamenting the recent death of Michael Chandler, a Big Stone Gap police officer recently shot and killed in the line of duty.

Youngkin released the details of the plan last week, presenting a budget amendment that would increase state funding for local police departments by $13.5 million for two consecutive years, with the caveat that “no funds shall be allocated to any locality in which the police department’s budget has decreased on a per capita basis.”

Youngkin’s spokeswoman, Macaulay Porter, did not offer additional detail about how that would be calculated, but said the proposal “is forward looking — you cannot decrease your funding in order to receive more funding.”

The state’s only comprehensive analysis of per-capita spending by local governments, a comparative report prepared annually by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts, shows police funding dropped in at least 48 localities between 2019 and 2020, the most recent years for which data is available.

But, as Schrad observed, it’s unlikely that the decreases were ideological. The report shows that of the localities, all but eight are jurisdictions that backed Youngkin in the recent election.

And most of them are tiny --- small towns like West Point at the head of the York River in eastern Virginia.

West Point’s police spending dropped from $887,000 in 2019 to $803,000 in 2020. It’s since risen to more than $900,000, according to Town Manager John Edwards. But he said depending on the year and the needs of the department, the town could easily be left out under Youngkin’s approach.

“It’s not that anyone is trying to take anything away from the police department, but this year they may not need as much as Public Works,” Edwards said. “But I can promise you in a town like West Point, we are extremely proud of our police and there is no effort to defund them.”

Edwards said some years tight budgets can lead to reductions. In other years, he said it could be as simple as changing needs. For instance, fuel prices may have dropped or the department got extra money to purchase new body armor the prior year.

That said, he’s not exactly stressing whether the town would get a cut of the new funding proposed by Northam, which he calculates would amount to about $6,000 a year. “Every little bit helps, but it’s not going to make or break my budget,” he said.

Schrad said that’s why police departments are urging lawmakers to back a different budget amendment put forward by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, which would provide a much more substantial increase in state funding --- $108 million over two years --- with no strings attached.

“We appreciate the governor’s amendments, but the increase is not enough,” Schrad said. “We have some localities that are actually considering folding their departments because they can’t afford it anymore.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.

MORE FROM AUTHOR