Reason Roundup

D.C. Spent $2.5 Million in Pandemic Relief Funds on Parking Cops

Plus: A "right" to avoid shaming and shunning? A win for private property rights in Tennessee. And more...


Pandemic funds used to hire parking cops, pay for prisons, build hotels. At a time when many residents were struggling due to job losses and loss of business, the District of Columbia ramped up efforts to wring money out of them—and spent federal pandemic aid to do so.

The city spent $2.5 million in federal relief funds to hire more parking cops, according to new reporting from the Associated Press.

Alas, D.C. is far from the only jurisdiction that used money meant to help people to police them instead.

For instance, the city of Los Angeles received $639,450,464 from the American Rescue Plan last year and spent 50 percent of it on Los Angeles Police Department payroll, according to Kenneth Meija, an accountant running for L.A. Comptroller.

In cities around the country, pandemic relief funds went to either ordinary police costs or to increase policing capabilities—sometimes in questionable ways.

"Albuquerque spent $3 million on a gunshot tracking system that isn't actually effective," notes Mic. "Honolulu bought its cops a $150,000 robot dog to monitor unhoused populations. In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers pushed to use federal funds to create $5,000 signing bonuses to recruit new officers."

Police spending is only one way cities misused pandemic funds:

Thanks to a sudden $140 million cash infusion, officials in Broward County, Florida, recently broke ground on a high-end hotel that will have views of the Atlantic Ocean and an 11,000-square-foot spa.

In New York, Dutchess County pledged $12 million for renovations of a minor league baseball stadium to meet requirements the New York Yankees set for their farm teams.

And in Massachusetts, lawmakers delivered $5 million to pay off debts of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston, a nonprofit established to honor the late senator that has struggled financially.

The three distinctly different outlays have one thing in common: Each is among the scores of projects that state and local governments across the United States are funding with federal coronavirus relief money despite having little to do with combating the pandemic, a review by The Associated Press has found.

The expenditures amount to a fraction of the $350 billion made available through last year's American Rescue Plan to help state and local governments weather the crisis. But they are examples of uses of the aid that are inconsistent with the rationale that Democrats offered for the record $1.9 trillion bill: The cash was desperately needed to save jobs, help those in distress, open schools and increase vaccinations.

Pandemic relief funds also went to building new prisons (Alabama), remodeling a City Hall (Woonsocket, Rhode Island), overhauling a tourism website (Alexandria, Virginia), golf course irrigation systems (Colorado Springs), and a museum to honor cyclist Major Taylor (Worcester, Massachusetts).

A number of cities and states have used funds to purchase "gunshot detection" tech. It  isn't actually effective, but cities and state are still spending millions in pandemic relief funds on ShotSpotter devices.

"Officials in some jurisdictions have been nothing short of gleeful over the prospect of using pandemic relief funds to expand carceral infrastructure," notes The Appeal:

In February, administrators of the Oklahoma County Jail were caught on a voicemail recording calling COVID-19 "our friend" and "the greatest thing that has ever happened to us." The jail had already received $10 million in federal funding under the 2020 CARES Act, and during the recorded conversation officials expressed hope that they'd receive "another $150 million" from ARPA. More than a dozen people died in the custody of the Oklahoma County Jail in 2021, and several more have died so far this year.

Keep all this in mind when the Biden administration and federal lawmakers talk about needing to dole out more money to help with pandemic-related problems (or high gas prices, or climate issues, or whatever the current crisis/excuse might be). These are effectively programs to make politicians look good, not to funnel funds to where they're actually needed.


Lawyer Ken White—aka "Popehat"—tackles the recent New York Times op-ed on free speech:

We should have a thoughtful conversation about whether modern American culture encourages us to react excessively and even cruelly to speech we don't like, how that impacts people, and what we should do about it.

The New York Times' Editorial Board did not offer such a thoughtful conversation in its piece "America Has a Free Speech Problem," which discusses oft-invoked "cancel culture." It's vexingly unserious.

The problems begin in the lede, which the Editorial Board used on social media to promote the piece:

For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

This is sheer nonsense from the jump. Americans don't have, and have never had, any right to be free of shaming or shunning. The First Amendment protects our right to speak free of government interference. It does not protect us from other people saying mean things in response to our speech. The very notion is completely incoherent. Someone else shaming me is their free speech, and someone else shunning me is their free association, both protected by the First Amendment.

White stipulates that he's not denying "that there are ever any unfair, disproportionate, or evil responses to speech," but he thinks we need to get more serious in defining what we mean by cancel culture. "Simply complaining about it in the abstract, without attempts to define it, without actionable responses, and without taking the rights of 'cancellers' doesn't ease the culture war. It inflames it," he suggests.

Read the whole thing here.


A Tennessee court has ruled that the state letting game wardens enter and inspect people's property without a warrant is unconstitutional. "The ruling is not just a victory for Benton County landowners Terry Rainwaters and Hunter Hollingsworth, who sued with the Institute for Justice (IJ) after the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) ignored their 'No Trespassing' signs by entering and installing cameras on their land," notes IJ. "The victory also applies broadly to private land across Tennessee."


Earlier this week we covered proposals—some better than others—to help people pay for gas. Would it surprise you to hear that California has gone the bad way?


• "The White House has quietly assembled a team of national security officials to sketch out scenarios of how the United States and its allies should respond if President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — frustrated by his lack of progress in Ukraine or determined to warn Western nations against intervening in the war — unleashes his stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons," reports The New York Times.


• Airline CEOs want an end to pandemic rules for flights. "Now is the time for the administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment," wrote the heads of 10 U.S.-based airlines, including Delta, in a letter to President Joe Biden.

• Male birth control pills get a step closer to reality: "In new preliminary research, a team says they've developed a non-hormonal form of male birth control, one that kept lab mice sterile for four to six weeks with seemingly no side effects. Early human trials of the pill are expected to begin by the end of the year."

• Belgium is decriminalizing selling and paying for sex, making it the first European country to officially do so.

• RIP Madeleine Albright.

• "Turns out marijuana really is a gateway drug — for America's statehouses, anyway": Politico looks at the spate of measures to decriminalize hallucinogens.

• New research looks at the economic costs of rejecting refugees: