COLUMBUS, Ohio — Governor Mike DeWine said Monday he wants to use $250 million in federal recovery money to fight crime while increasing recruitment and wellness initiatives for law enforcement and first responders.
Surrounded by representatives from police and fire associations, as well as state and local leaders, DeWine called for the General Assembly to pass the proposal so the state could start accepting grant proposals soon. It comes as parts of the state experience record violence and many agencies say the COVID-19 pandemic and recent controversies have damaged morale and wellness among first responders.
"We owe this to the men and women who are out there protecting us every single day," DeWine said.
DeWine proposed using $175 million in American Recovery Plan Act money for local crime-fighting help, as parts of the state see a spike in violence. Cincinnati had its deadliest year on record in 2020 and was approaching 90 homicides for 2021, as of Dec. 6.
According to the governor, those funds could be used for projects like improving multi-jurisdictional collaboration, hot spot targeted policing, innovations in community policing, gunshot-detection technology, and improving ballistics technology. DeWine also called on funds to be used to cut the evidence-testing backlog at some state crime labs and coroners offices.
The remaining $75 million would be allocated for programs to help recruitment and wellness in the law enforcement and first responder ranks. The governor recommended programs to increase the number of peer support groups and increase suicide prevention training, among other mental health initiatives. DeWine also called for an increase in recruitment efforts to return those agencies to pre-pandemic staffing levels, using tuition assistance and high school and college explorer programs.
"This is clearly not the time to defund the police," DeWine said. "This is the time to fund the police in a new and creative way."
Norwood Police Lt. Ron Murphy said he is grateful the proposal would help fund explorer programs statewide, as well as focus on mental wellness programs.
"All the emotional trauma can ultimately be worse than the physical trauma police officers face," Murphy said. "It's the daily grind, a lot of people go through it in the workload."
The nonprofit Blue Help said suicide is now the leading cause of death among police nationwide. Murphy said handling emotional trauma has been the elephant in the room, and it is time for it to be appropriately addressed.
"Historically, police officers don't really ask for help — I don't think any first responders do. They try to buck up, battle through, not be the one that needs help," Murphy said. "'I'm the one that's there to help you, I don't need help, I'll get through this.' We know that's not true at all."
Lt. Gov. John Husted said the proposal also places a focus on cyber threats, including ransomware attacks and disinformation campaigns that have threatened critical infrastructure.
DeWine called on agencies across the state to get creative in their pitches for grant funding.
"You can design your own program for your own community," DeWine said. "Tell us how you're going to do it and you have a great shot of getting it funded."
State Rep. Thomas Hall, a Republican from Madison Township, was present behind the governor as one of the proposal's shepherds through the House of Representatives. Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey was also present at the announcement inside the statehouse in Columbus. It was unclear what role Condrey or Middletown played in the proposal, or what its agencies might apply for through the process.
The General Assembly will have to pass the proposal before applications can open.