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The money would go to local departments, which are struggling to hire and retain officers. Centrists in the U.S. House want more spending as progressives push for stronger police accountability measures.
A push by centrist House Democrats to send more federal dollars to help localities hire and retain police officers appears stalled over demands that the money includes requirements for greater police accountability.
Jim Pasco, the executive director of the nation’s largest police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, told Route Fifty, that talks between centrist and progressive Democrats are at an “impasse.”
“Nothing seems to have happened,” Pasco, who has been following the talks, said in an interview.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also said she did not know of any progress being made. “We’re waiting to see,” she said in an interview.
It’s unknown exactly what Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia, are pushing for in the talks.
But both centrists have proposed increasing funding for police, as they and other Democrats seeking reelection in November’s midterms face attacks from Republicans about rising crime rates around the country.
In January, Gottheimer, co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, sponsored the Invest to Protect Act, which would instruct the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to award unspecified amounts in grants to local or tribal governments with fewer than 200 law enforcement officers. The money could be used for various activities, including purchasing body cameras, providing de-escalation training, and improving recruitment and retention.
A spokesman for Gottheimer did not return press inquiries. But Gottheimer in introducing the bill pushed back at the defund the police movement that arose after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020.
“We need to fund—not defund—local law enforcement. Cutting to the bone only weakens any profession; it pushes good people out, it diminishes the overall quality, and fuels a race to the bottom,” Gottheimer said in a statement when he introduced the bill.
Spanberger also in January co-sponsored the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) on the Beat Program Reauthorization and Parity Act. The proposal would roughly triple funding for the existing program it covers from $386 million to $1 billion and would allow the grants to be used to increase wages for officers in low-income communities. The bill would also lower the amount of matching funds communities have to contribute, which a press release at the time said would allow more low-income and rural communities to access the grants.
A spokesman for Spanberger said in an email on Friday that the congresswoman, a former CIA officer, is continuing to “level the playing field for rural police departments, and help these departments hire and retain officers.”
“She has heard this need directly from local law enforcement in Virginia—and making sure these men and women have the resources they need to keep Virginians safe remains a top priority,” the spokesman said.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties declined to comment on the stand-off. But Spanberger’s proposal was endorsed by several law enforcement organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, and Major County Sheriffs of America. That support comes as localities across the U.S. are having problems retaining police officers.
“The past few years have been one of the most challenging times in law enforcement history,” Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, wrote in a letter to Spanberger and the bill’s Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina.
“Police officers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. Budgetary and other challenges have also made it more difficult for agencies to recruit and retain qualified officers, which has further compounded this attrition. Nearly every MCCA member agency is understaffed, and several are short hundreds of officers,” she wrote.
The centrists had hoped the House would pass a police funding package in July before Congress left for its August recess, but have not been able to reach an agreement with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Black lawmakers had been frustrated last year when their attempts to reform policing in the country stalled when they could not reach an agreement with Senate Republicans.
Pasco said he did not know precisely what police accountability measures progressives are pushing for. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed by the House last year would have, among other things, removed a legal principle called qualified immunity that bars police officers from being sued for violating civil rights, introduced a ban on chokeholds and created nationwide standards on the use of force.
Cynthia Roseberry, acting director of police advocacy for the ACLU, declined in an interview to go into specifics when asked what accountability measures the group would like to see added to a police finding bill. But she said, “just hiring more police officers is not the answer” to address issues like the excessive use of force and racial disparities. The group does back “robust” accountability measures, she said, as well as encourages law enforcement agencies to respond to 911 calls by sending crisis intervention specialists and mental health professionals, instead of only police officers.
“The main issue right now is how can there be accountability along with increased funding,” Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat and chairwoman of The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in an interview.
Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat and a member of the Black and progressive caucuses, described it as “essential” for police reforms to be included in a police funding bill. “Strong accountability measures that make a big difference,” she said.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.
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