Examining Uvalde’s Police Spending

For the fiscal year ending in September, spending on police is expected to account for 37% of general fund expenditures in the city of Uvalde, Texas. But police spending is projected to make up about 17% of the city’s total operating expenditures, contrary to imprecise claims made by some politicians and news organizations.

Funding for police in Uvalde became a topic of online discussion after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in the city on May 24. Officers who arrived on the scene have been criticized for retreating from gunfire and then waiting over an hour to reengage the shooter, who had locked himself in a classroom.

In tweets in late May, Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal both mentioned the city of Uvalde’s spending on police and implied that new gun policies — not more police officers — are needed to prevent gun violence. The congresswomen said Uvalde already spends 40% of its “budget” on police, which omits the general fund qualifier.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:

Jayapal tweeted:

Uvalde’s adopted budget for fiscal year 2021-2022, which began in October and ends in September, says that city officials approved spending roughly $4.39 million of $11.5 million in general fund expenditures on police and animal control. Spending for animal control, specifically, is about $105,000, Uvalde City Manager Vince DiPiazza told FactCheck.org in an interview.

That means that about 37% of the city’s general fund spending is expected to be for police.

The budget document explains that the general fund, which is funded by a variety of taxes and other revenues, “is used to account for resources traditionally associated with government, which are not required legally or by sound financial management to be accounted for in other funds.” Sometimes described as the “chief operating fund,” the general fund finances a number of the city’s major functions, including administrative, judicial and emergency services, and police and animal control is the largest general fund expenditure annually.

However, the general fund is one of several operating funds that make up the city’s total budget. For instance, there are also enterprise funds, which are used to pay for utility, sanitation and airport resources. A debt service fund is used to make the city’s debt payments, and there are other smaller funds for capital projects and information technology.

When all funds are included, spending on police is expected to be about 17% of $25.3 million in total spending in FY 2021-2022.

And that spending on police does not include about $435,000 in budgeted security spending by the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District — which, as Jayapal said, has its own separate police force of about six officers. The school district’s general fund budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year is almost $41 million.

We asked Ocasio-Cortez and Jayapal’s offices for their sources of information, and spokespeople for both congresswomen said that it had been widely reported that 40% of the city’s budget goes to the police.

It’s true that some news organizations have run articles with versions of that inexact language. The claim is popular on Twitter as well. 

But other publications have specified that almost 40% of the general fund — not the total budget — goes to Uvalde’s police force. And the Intercept, which may have been the first news outlet to report on May 25 that Uvalde police get “just under 40 percent of the total city budget,” corrected its article a day later.

“This story now clarifies that police in Uvalde, Texas receive nearly 40 percent of expenditures from the city’s general fund, the main component of the budget,” the May 26 correction reads.

DiPiazza, who has been the city manager or assistant manager of other similarly sized cities in Texas and Kansas, said it’s not uncommon for the police department to make up that much of general fund spending in smaller cities.

“Matter of fact, I think that’s pretty typical,” he said. “It may be different with larger cities with larger budgets and more things that they do, but for a small city like us, I think you’d find the numbers to be generally in that range.”

As of 2021, Uvalde had about 15,300 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Undergraduate fellow Eliza Keefe contributed to this article.

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