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The U.S. House-passed legislation would provide new federal dollars for hiring officers and other initiatives. But it faces an uncertain path in the Senate.
The nation’s mayors praised a package of policing bills the U.S. House passed on Thursday, including new grants to help smaller communities hire and retain officers.
In order to win support from progressives who opposed only providing funding to hire more police, lawmakers incorporated a number of other programs into the deal. These include grants to help cover the cost of: sending mental health professionals to respond to police calls; reducing violence in disadvantaged areas; and hiring more detectives to investigate unsolved murders and other violent crimes that especially affect poor and minority neighborhoods.
“These bills make needed investments in our cities and their police departments, investments that will make our neighborhoods safer and improve our response to people having behavioral health crises,” Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said in a statement after the votes. “They will help us to achieve strong, effective, and accountable policing, prevent violence, and intervene when it does occur.”
But, as Cochran noted, the bills must still pass the Senate, where they face an uncertain fate. Democrats are hoping the measures will help to counter criticism before the upcoming midterm elections that they are to blame for rising crime rates. Republicans may be unwilling to give Democrats a legislative win by backing the package.
Important to Democrats in tough reelection fights is the Invest to Protect Act, pushed by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, which would help police agencies with fewer than 125 officers cover the cost of activities like buying body cameras, providing training and improving recruitment and retention. Gottheimer said on the House floor before the bill passed in a bipartisan 360 to 64 vote that 96% of local police departments nationwide would qualify.
William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, applauded the measure. The bill “will create a broad grant program specifically for small agencies within the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program that will give them access to vital resources to help them train their officers, retain and hire officers, and support mental health and wellness programs for officers,” he said in a Gottheimer press release.
To gain support from progressives, the House also passed, 220-207, the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, which would provide $5 billion in Department of Health and Human Services grants over eight years to community-based organizations and local governments for counseling gunshot victims and other violence intervention programs.
That bill, sponsored by Rep. Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democrat, also includes $1.5 billion in Labor Department youth job training grants for communities that have high rates of violent crime.
Legislation known as the Violent Incident Clearance and Technological Investigative Methods, or VICTIM, Act is part of the package as well. It would establish Justice Department grants for state, tribal and local governments to hire and train more detectives and for victim support services. The measure, which passed in a 250-178 vote, was sponsored by Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat, who was formerly Orlando’s first-ever female police chief.
Phoenix, Arizona police chief, Jeri Williams, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, praised the passage of the bill. “Nearly every major city in America is experiencing a rise in violent crime,” Williams said in a Demings press release. “The VICTIM Act will help law enforcement agencies address staffing challenges, enhance investigative and evidence processing capabilities and technology, and provide services to victims and their families.”
Also passed, on a 223-206 vote, was the Mental Health Justice Act, sponsored by Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat. It would create a grant program to hire and train mental health professionals for first responder units.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.