WASHINGTON – As the GOP makes crime an election issue, moderate Democrats such as Rep. Angie Craig are desperate for Congress to pass legislation that would give more money to police.
These Democrats, including Rep. Dean Phillips (D-3 ), are looking forward to a victory in the weeks ahead of November’s election. Members of their party have stopped Craig, D-2 , Phillips, and other Democrats pressing for federal assistance for local police. In an attempt to increase Democratic support, the policing legislation was to be passed in July. It was also expected to include a bill to ban assault weapons.
Despite objections from members of Congress Black Caucus and the progressive wing, Democratic leaders had to withdraw the package from consideration.
Rep. Ilhan Omran, D-5th, and other progressives have repeatedly opposed the provision of more federal money to police than programs that help the poor. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are against giving more money to police programs, even if it means that there will be new accountability standards.
During Congress’ August recess, negotiations on a compromise were continuing. It’s unclear if any progress has been made.
A bill to increase federal funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services grant program is included in the policing package. Craig co-sponsored the Invest To Protect Act. This bill would allow for more flexibility in using this money and create a grant program for smaller police forces with fewer 200 officers.
Craig stated that “my many conversations with local law enforcement officers across the Second District have made clear that our law enforcement agencies face unprecedented challenges and obstacles.” “Congress must act quickly to meet this urgent need and provide law enforcement with the resources necessary to address these critical issues. We have an opportunity to pass bipartisan, commonsense bills relating to police, such as my Invest to Protect Act.
Some bills included in the package will increase federal funding for police. One bill would increase federal funding for police officers by providing funds to train, hire, train and dispatch mental health professionals to respond in an emergency to 911 calls, or any other hotline that is triggered by someone experiencing a mental illness. Another is to assist victims of violent crime in poor areas who are more likely to break the law.
Craig and Phillips also introduced separate bills to strengthen local police departments.
Craig recently introduced the Protect and Serve Act. This would increase federal penalties for law enforcement officers who target them and purposely hurt them. It also contains a non-binding resolution requiring every new member of the House to take at least one ride-along along with local police within their first year.
Phillips also cosponsored some legislation in the policing package and is now asking House leaders to include his Pathways to Policing Act into the package.
Phillips’ bill would give $50 million in Justice Department grants to help state and local police departments recruit new officers. This would be done through a national campaign that is modeled after one used by the Defense Department to recruit soldiers, sailors, and airmen. It would also provide $50 million to the Minnesota-styled “Pathway to Policing,” programs that provide financial aid to local recruits.
Phillips stated that she meets with chiefs and rides along with rank-and-file officers from the community frequently. “The number one concern I hear is their inability recruit and retain the best and brightest to protect our communities.”
After many years of decline, crime increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, violent crime increased by 21.6 percent in Minnesota between 2000 and 2021.
Republicans claim that efforts to “defund” the police and demoralize them after George Floyd’s murder two years ago are to be blamed, along with criminal justice reforms in certain cities and states by Democrats.
Democrats who wish to be clear that they are not soft on crime are being attacked.
Tyler Kistner, a Republican candidate against Craig, stated that his Democratic opponent’s support for the police was “shameless election-year pandering”.
Kistner also criticised Craig’s vote to support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This series of reforms included qualified immunity limits that protect police officers against civil lawsuits that might arise from their actions in the line-of-duty.
Opposition by police unions to the George Floyd bill’s George Floyd section stalled the legislation at the Senate. The reforms that would have increased accountability for misconduct in law enforcement and established best practices and training requirements never became law.
Craig stated that her views on qualified immunity have “evolved” because attacks on law enforcement have harmed recruitment and retention. She believes that qualified immunity should be maintained.
Criminologists are still trying to figure out why violent crime rates have risen so fast. However, they believe Democratic policies are not to blame for the drop in property crime and other crimes – both in Minnesota and nationwide.
Ames Grawert, Brennan Center for Justice, stated that “it is too early to know with certainty why crime rose in the past two years.”
Grawert also pointed out that violent crime rose at almost equal rates in urban, suburban, and rural areas. He said that “despite the politicized claims to suggest that this increase was due to criminal justice reforms in liberal-leaning jurisdictions,” murders rose roughly equally in cities managed by Republicans and Democrats.
Experts believe that falling murder arrest rates could be due to an understaffed or less aggressive police force. This might have encouraged those more inclined to violence.
House leaders believe that the federal government must assist local police in their lagging recruitment efforts and low retention rates. They hope to end the impasse over the policing legislation before Congress returns from its month-long recess next October.
Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Majority Leader, stated that the package would be up for a vote when the work on bills for the floor is complete.
This is a good news for Democrats like Craig or Phillips.