By Peter Nickeas, CNN
Billions of dollars to address America’s exploding gun trafficking problem, to catch dangerous fugitives, and to fund initiatives at local law enforcement agencies.
The increased funding for those items are at the heart of President Joe Biden’s expanded police spending plan in the federal budget as Democrats, many facing tough midterm elections in 2022, contend with a prolonged spike in homicides and soft on crime tag from Republicans that grew from 2020’s unrest when progressives advocated for “defunding” police.
“I’ve said it before, the answer is not to defund our police departments, it’s to fund our police and give them all the tools they need, training and foundation and partners and protectors that our communities need,” Biden said during the announcement of his budget, boasting his proposal “puts more police on the street for community policing, so they get to know the community they’re policing,” and increases funding for body cams, personnel to fight gun violence and other community programs.
Police spending alone doesn’t create safety, though experts widely agree that there’s a policing component to any effective violence reduction solution. And Biden, in the days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, said he didn’t support defunding police. Murders in America spiked following the at-times violent protests across the country in response to Floyd’s death, just as the defund the police movement grew into prominence among news organizations and left-leaning politicians.
Biden warned Democrats against talking about defunding police, after the presidential election but before a special election in Georgia that determined which political party controlled the Senate. And voters, given a chance to approve a more drastic overhaul of policing in certain local elections, chose moderation last year.
During his most recent State of the Union address, Biden said defunding the police was not the answer to a spike in violence, and budget documents released by the White House earlier this week show proposed increases in spending for policing-related programs. At least 10 cities set homicide records in 2021, after 2020 saw the largest year-over-year increase ever recorded.
Defund activists have argued for cutting budgets to police departments, and some cities did, mostly by letting staffing levels fall through attrition. Activists also have argued for a shift in funding to social services and other non-police responses to non-violent crimes, though the effort is not as simple as taking a dollar from police and giving it to a social service agency; the expansion of services to limit the role of police in society has proven complicated and costly. Many Democrats now see that phrase taking hold as a political mistake.
The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the interests of active and retired law enforcement officers, released a statement on Wednesday noting Biden “delivered on the commitment he made during the State of the Union to increase Federal funding to State and local law enforcement.” White House officials said more details about the spending proposals would be released in the coming weeks.
Biden’s funding proposal includes $3.2 billion in state and local grants and $1.7 billion for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The budgeted amount would allow the ATF to hire another 300 agents and investigators for gun trafficking task forces and gun shop compliance investigations.
Police departments across the country have been seizing thousands of guns during investigations, many of them stolen, and the spike in homicides over the last couple years has been due to an increase in gun homicide. It was a stolen gun that was used in the fatal shooting of two NYPD officers in January, leading Biden to visit that city later in the month.
The President’s spending plan also includes an additional $101 million over last year’s $367 million for “civil rights enforcement” — money the Department of Justice can use to prosecute hate crimes, enforce voting rights and “support police reform.” That includes consent decree investigations, which all but stopped under former President Donald Trump. Those investigations can be used to overhaul big-city police departments, and the DOJ, under Biden, has announced investigations into the Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix police departments.
Aside from that, Biden’s proposal includes $106 million for body-worn cameras for federal law enforcement officers. Police chiefs across the country identified cameras as a priority for their agencies, according to a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum after Biden was elected.
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CNN’s DJ Judd contributed to this report.