The House Democrats passed on Thursday a package of bills meant to blunt the broad sides of the GOP on crime, trying to dispel all perceptions that they want to “cut down the police force” amid growing public safety concerns.
Democrats tried to strike a delicate balance with this package: While it includes more subsidy money for the police, it also includes bills that would invest in reform efforts that favor activists, such as community-based violence interventions and first responders trained specifically to address mental health crises. By addressing both, they hope to demonstrate their commitment to law enforcement while also recognizing growing concerns about the need for alternatives and accountability.
“There’s a lot in it, it’s not just more money for the police,” said Insha Rahman, vice president of advocacy and partnerships at the Vera Institute of Justice.
Still the tick marks Last Retreat of the Democrats from their more aggressive criticism of police brutality in recent years, one reason several progressives are shying away from promoting the package, which aims to curb Republican attacks. so sure crimes such as murders have increased in 2020 and 2021, Republicans have suggested that Democrat support for police reform was behind the uptick. House Democrats legislation — which is a byproduct of negotiations between centrist lawmakers such as Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), progressives including Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus including Chairman Joyce Beatty (D-OH) — is the latest effort to neutralize these claims.
For now, the bills are primarily a messaging effort and are unlikely to be passed by the Senate, where passing legislation would require 10 Republicans to sign. While one of the bills in the package, Gottheimer’s Invest to Protect Act, has received strong support from the Senate, it’s uncertain whether the Senate will adopt it alone, given everything else still on the bill. Regardless, Democrats argue that the bills are an important statement showing where they stand going into the election, and that could increase their appeal to voters.
“I think there’s been a lot of giving on both sides,” Beatty told cafemadrid.
What does the public safety deal include
The package contains four bills that encourage investment in police and other public security interventions. They are:
- Invest to Protect Act: This legislation, sponsored by Gottheimer, would allow the Department of Justice to allocate $250 million in federal grants over the next five years to police forces with 125 officers or fewer.
According to a statement from Jayapal and Omar, progressives were able to make a few concessions, including targeting these funds to smaller police forces, using the money for de-escalation training and using the funds to collect data on police departments. Progressives hoped these changes would ensure that new spending goes to departments that lack the staff to perform basic tasks, reduce incidents of police brutality, and allow Congress to better assess the effectiveness of individual departments.
This bill passed 360-64.
- Break the law on the cycle of violence: Sponsored by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), legislation would require the Department of Health and Human Services to allocate $5 billion in federal grants for community-based violence intervention programs over eight years.
This bill was passed 220-207.
- VICTIM Act: This bill, sponsored by Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), would establish a new DOJ grant program that will provide detectives funding to investigate murders and violent crimes, as well as resources for personnel to support victims in these cases. Currently, a large portion of these crimes remain unsolved, a problem that this bill seeks to address.
This bill was passed 250-178.
- Mental Health Act: This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), would establish a DOJ-managed grant program aimed at providing funding for the hiring and training of mental health emergency responders who would address mental health crises rather than the police.
This bill was passed with 223-206.
Three of the four bills have strong consensus across the caucus, while the Invest to Protect Act has met progressive backlash due to the funding it provides to law enforcement. Gottheimer’s bill “would add nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in police funding over the next 5 years without addressing the crisis of police brutality,” Representative Cori Bush (D-MO), a proponent of criminal justice reform, said in a statement. he argues that the legislation should be decoupled from the rest of the package.
Beatty acknowledged that many activists may not support the bill, but noted that their input was vital to strengthening protections in the legislation. “I’ve spoken to the activists and said I’m not asking them to support it because they have a role: they’re activists,” she said. “But for their persistence, we wouldn’t have had so many crash barriers.”
The shortcomings of this public safety package
House vote on public safety bills comes after past talks on police reform imploded, and as Democrats have begun to shift away from the stronger convictions of many members of the police force in 2020.
Previously, the Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act, which would have limited qualified police immunity protection, failed in the Senate due to Republican opposition. Since then, members of the party have distanced themselves from a focus on reform over fears that rhetoric surrounding “defunding the police” hurt lawmakers in battlefield districts in last election.
That has led to the kind of compromises visible in the latest package, which have disappointed many activists.
“The police bills now on the table do nothing to address police responsibility,” Color of Change president Rashad Robinson said in a statement. “Encouraging more ‘training’ without real accountability is a bogus solution that will not make our communities safer.”
Some of the measures activists are asking for, such as policies that would divest federal funding from the police, do not yet have the support of Congress or the executive branch needed to become law. Their criticism of Democrats’ new bills is also backed up by research, which has shown, for example, that actions such as increased data collection have been misguided. problems such as underreporting.
Right now, these incremental measures are probably the most the House Democrats could do with the narrow margins they have and the tight timeline they face in the run-up to the election. With less than two months to go until the midterms, this could be their last chance to pass on the topic. For many moderates, this was important to send a message, even if it’s the wrong one for activists who have long supported the party.
“Today we will testify with our own eyes who actually wants to fund the police,” Representative Demings, a former Orlando police chief and Florida Senate candidate, said in a floor speech on Thursday.