President Biden doesn’t want to defund the police. Instead, he wants to give them more than $30 billion in additional funding over 10 years. A newly released budget proposal would increase funding to several federal programs focused on law enforcement, crime investigation and prevention. Biden has meanwhile failed to deliver on his promise to enact sweeping police reform in the wake of the massive protest movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
“We will secure our communities by putting more police on the street to engage in accountable community policing, hiring the agents needed to help fight gun crime, and investing in crime prevention and community violence intervention,” Biden said in a March 28 announcement. His plans have been widely criticized.
“Instead of funding all this federal money into police departments, we can look at … community development and public safety initiatives that don’t involve police.”
“None of this is a good use of policymakers’ time, to throw billions and billions of dollars at police budgets when they’re causing so much harm for the public and civilians,” Lauren Bonds, legal director at the National Police Accountability Project, told Filter. “Without reform, there shouldn’t be funding.”
“Potentially instead of funding all this federal money into police departments, we can look at funding and investing in other forms of community development and public safety initiatives that don’t involve police,” she continued. “There are so many local governments that have created these alternatives to policing, particularly related to mental health crises and traffic enforcement.”
Biden’s federal budget for fiscal year 2023—beginning October 1—includes $3.2 billion for Department of Justice (DOJ) discretionary spending on state and local law enforcement. In addition, Biden proposes a mandated $30 billion in new spending on law enforcement and crime prevention over the next 10 years—but there’s no details on what exactly it would do. Federal funding makes up a small portion overall of state and local police budgets, which are largely funded by their own governments. But some federally funded programs encourage aggressive and abusive policing.
The proposed sums include $2.3 billion for the Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS Office), which would “support the hiring of police and sworn law enforcement personnel nationwide.” The program has existed in one form or another since then-Senator Biden pushed to create it through President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill.
COPS was designed to fulfill Clinton’s promise to put 100,000 new police officers on American streets, by issuing federal grants for local police departments to hire and train officers in “community policing.” But that phrase was never clearly defined, and the federal government had little way to know how this money was being spent by local departments.
This has led to “community policing” funds being used for purposes that few would place in that category. Wisconsin police departments, for example, used COPS grants to help expand heavily-armed SWAT teams throughout the state, which are frequently used to serve drug arrest warrants. The funding has supported aggressive, paramilitary tactics in many places around the country.
Biden’s budget also proposes $6.2 billion in funding for Office of Justice Programs including Byrne Justice Assistant Grants. The DOJ calls these Byrne grants the “leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions,” and drug enforcement is a key goal.
Biden’s police funding plan throws his administration’s failure to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed last year into sharp relief.
Byrne grants are “formula” grants, meaning most jurisdictions are eligible to receive them without having to compete for them. They are awarded based on population and violent crime rate, encouraging departments to make as many arrests as possible. Byrne grants funded infamous abuses like racist mass arrests of residents in the cities of Tulia and Hearne, Texas.
Biden’s police funding plan throws his administration’s failure to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed last year into sharp relief. Among many provisions, the bill would make it easier to convict officers of crimes, make officers personally liable for abuses, restrict use of force, and create a national registry of police complaints.
The legislation twice passed the Democrat-controlled House, but stalled in the Senate amid Republican opposition to several provisions. In January 2022, it looked like Biden would sign a series of executive orders on police reform—but if there were plans, they were canceled.
“The Justice in Policing Act should continue to be a priority for the administration,” Bonds said. “A lot of oxygen was taken out of any policing reforms in the first year of Biden’s time in office, a lot of that was going towards infrastructure and other priorities … There is nothing specifically flawed about the Act, but there’s also an opportunity to break up some of the core components and try to get them passed as individual pieces of legislation.”
Photograph by Mitchell Shapiro Photography via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0.