House Democrats approved legislation Thursday that would provide millions of dollars to local law enforcement while aiming to enhance police training and technology.
The four bills, which are unlikely to clear the Senate and become law, are designed to send a message: that Democrats support small police departments, but also improvements to police practices.
Democrats reached a breakthrough deal after months of arguments between progressives and centrists. President Joe Biden and other moderates have worked to distance the party from the “Defund the Police” slogan and activism of the summer of 2020, which they feel has damaged the party’s electoral prospects.
As the large-scale protests from 2020 waned, so too did momentum for reform in Washington. The wide-ranging George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which contained several dramatic policing reforms, such as restrictions on chokeholds, died earlier this year.
But key Democratic voting blocs in the House were wary of a bill that increases police funding without some substantial reforms.
The Congressional Black Caucus, including Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), helped mediate conversations between moderate and progressive Democrats on the legislation.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said progressives secured important concessions, such as limiting a grant program for small police departments to those with fewer than 125 officers, instead of the 200 originally proposed by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), one of the House’s most vocal conservative Democrats.
“We all have small police departments in our districts who have a really tough time keeping officers, particularly when they’re competing with larger districts,” Jayapal said.
Even though Thursday’s legislation plowed funding into local police departments, and even though they themselves voted for one of the bills by a wide margin, Republicans said Democrats were just trying to trick people into thinking they support police.
“Crime doesn’t concern House Democrats, but losing political support before an election scares them to death,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said.
The four bills are designed to improve policing and officer resources and also deescalate some confrontations between police and the public. The bill establishing the grant program for small departments would allow the money to be used for better training, body cameras and access to mental health services.
Two of the bills would provide federal grants to help law enforcement increase their crime-solving rates and enhance investigative resources for shootings and other violent crimes. The fourth bill would give grants to states and tribal organizations to send out non-police first responders who can better handle civilians suffering from mental health crises.
“People have been asking for the communities to be safer,” Beatty told reporters on Wednesday. “People have been asking for mental health. We are giving them that.”
Jayapal said progressives didn’t consider the bills the final word on police reform.
“It doesn’t take away the call for real accountability of the George Floyd [Justice in Policing Act] nature,” she said. “So that is not stopping. This is not a substitute for that.”