On Thursday, the Democrats in the House passed a package of bills intended to smooth out the GOP broadsides they have tackled on crime, seeking to dispel any perceptions that they want to “define the police” amid growing public safety concerns.
Democrats have tried to strike a delicate balance with this package: while it includes more grants for the police, it also contains bills that would invest in activist-favored reform efforts such as community-level violence interventions and first responders who are trained. specifically to address the mental health crisis By addressing both, they hope to show their commitment to law enforcement while also acknowledging progressive concerns about the need for alternatives and accountability.
“There’s a lot in there, it’s not just more police funding,” says Insha Rahman, vice president of advocacy and partnership at the Vera Institute of Justice.
However, the measure marks the Democrats’ latest retreat from their more aggressive criticisms of police violence in recent years, which is why several progressives have opposed the advancement of the package, which seeks to repel Republican attacks. As some crimes such as homicides increased in 2020 and 2021, Republicans have suggested that Democratic support for police reforms was behind the increase. House of Democrats legislation, which is a byproduct of negotiations between centrist lawmakers like Rep Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), progressives including representatives. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, including President Joyce Beatty (D-OH), is the latest attempt to neutralize these claims.
For now, the bills are predominantly a messaging effort and are unlikely to be picked up by the Senate, where passing legislation would require the signing of 10 Republicans. Although one of the bills in the package, Gottheimer’s Invest to Protect Act, had strong Senate support, it’s unclear whether the upper house will take it on its own, given everything else still in its pocket. Regardless, Democrats argue that the bills are a meaningful statement that shows where they are going in the elections and that it could broaden their appeal to voters.
“I think there has been a big breakdown on both sides,” Beatty told Vox.
What does the public safety agreement contain
The package contains four bills that stimulate investment in police and other public safety interventions. I’m:
- Invest to Protect Act: Sponsored by Gottheimer, this legislation would allow the Justice Department to award $ 250 million in federal grants to police departments with 125 officers or fewer over the next five years.
According to a statement by Jayapal and Omar, progressives have been able to secure some concessions, including allocating these funds to smaller police departments, using the money for escalation reduction training, and use of funds to collect data on police departments. He progressively hoped that these changes would ensure that the new expenses would go to the departments without staff to complete basic tasks, reduce incidents of police brutality, and allow Congress to better evaluate the effectiveness of individual departments.
This bill passed 360-64.
- Break the Cycle of Violence Act: Sponsored by Representative Steven Horsford (D-NV), the legislation would require the Department of Health and Human Services to award $ 5 billion in federal grants for community-level violence intervention programs over eight years.
This bill passed 220-207.
- Victim Law: Sponsored by Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), this bill would establish a new grant program run by the DOJ that provides funding for investigators to investigate homicides and violent crimes, as well as resources for staff to support victims of these cases. . Currently, a high percentage of these crimes remain unsolved, an issue this bill attempts to address.
This bill passed 250-178.
- Mental Health Justice Act: Sponsored by Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), this legislation would establish a grant program managed by the DOJ dedicated to providing funding for the hiring and training of mental health emergency response units that would address mental health crises at police post.
This bill passed 223-206.
Three of the four bills have strong consensus throughout the caucus, while the Invest to Protect Act has been pushed back due to the funding it provides to law enforcement. Gottheimer’s bill “would add nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to police funding over the next 5 years without addressing the crisis of police brutality,” Representative Cori Bush (D-MO) said in a statement. advocate of criminal justice reform, arguing that legislation should be decoupled from the rest of the package.
Beatty acknowledged that many activists may not support the bill, but noted that their contribution was crucial in strengthening protections in the legislation. “I talked to activists and said I’m not asking them to approve it because they have a role: to be activists,” she said. “But because of their persistence, we wouldn’t have had so many guardrails.”
The shortcomings of this public safety package
The House vote on the public safety bills comes after the implosion of previous police reform talks and as Democrats began to move away from stronger police convictions by many members in 2020.
Previously, the Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act, which would have limited the police’s qualified immunity protections, failed to advance to the Senate due to Republican opposition. Since then, party members have distanced themselves from focusing on reforms due to fears that the rhetoric about “defending the police” harmed lawmakers in battlefield districts in the last election.
This has led to the kind of compromise that is evident in the latest package, which has disappointed many activists.
“The police bills on the table right now do nothing to address police accountability,” Color of Change president Rashad Robinson said in a statement. “Encouraging more ‘training’ without real accountability measures is a false solution that will not make our communities safer.”
Some of the measures demanded by activists, such as policies that would divest federal police funding, do not yet have the backing of Congress or the executive branch needed to become law. Their criticisms of the Democrats’ new bills are also supported by research, which has found, for example, that actions such as increased data collection have run into problems such as underestimation.
At this point, these incremental measures are probably most Democrats in the House who could do with the tight margins they have and the tight timeline they face before the election. Less than two months into mid-term, this could be their last chance to pass something on the subject. For many moderates, doing something important to get a message across, even if it’s wrong for activists who have long supported the party.
“Today, we will see firsthand who actually wants to finance the police,” Rep. Demings, former Orlando police chief and Democrat Senate candidate in Florida, said Thursday.