Key Democrats on Sunday tamped down expectations of the “defund police” movement but said there will need to be a reexamination of how money is spent, as they prepared to announce a major piece of legislation designed to set national standards for how state and local police can operate.
The defund police movement has picked up steam on the political left in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a series of encounters between police and protesters over the ensuing two weeks that left much of the country demanding changes.
At the epicenter of unrest in Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey was booed at a rally over the weekend for rejecting calls to wipe out the city’s police department. However on Sunday, a supermajority of members of the Minneapolis City Council committed themselves at a rally to doing exactly that.
Eight members, enough to override a Frey veto, vowed in a statement read to the demonstrators to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department,” saying the department “cannot be reformed, and will never be accountable for its actions.”
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed himself and said Sunday that he will pursue cuts in police funding.
“We’re committed to seeing a shift of funding to youth services, to social services, that will happen literally in the course of the next three weeks, but I’m not going to go into detail because it is subject to negotiation and we want to figure out what makes sense,” the mayor said, according to The New York Times.
In Washington, two senior black Democrats, House Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass of California, acknowledged the growing movement but said defunding is not on the table when Democrats reveal their police reform bill Monday.
“I don’t believe that you should disband police departments. But I do think that, in cities, in states, we need to look at how we are spending the resources and invest more in our communities,” Ms. Bass told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
The bill they will announce, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, will set standards for how officers should react to protests, will ban use of chokeholds and will remove officers’ immunity from personal lawsuits over damages caused by their policing.
Asked about the defund police movement, Mr. Jeffries said he had not seen a plan he would back. He said Democrats can resist the pressure from the left, just as they did last year when liberal activists demanded abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But Mr. Jeffries was optimistic about approval of the other reforms including the ban on chokeholds, which he has advocated for years.
“We obviously have a serious problem,” Mr. Jeffries told CNN’s “Inside Politics.” “We cannot deny that we have far too many brutal officers, far too many violent officers, far too many abusive officers, and we have to address that phenomenon.”
President Trump took to Twitter to feed the battle over defunding police within Democratic circles. He predicted his likely Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, will side with “radical left Democrats” in stripping money from departments.
“I want great and well paid LAW ENFORCEMENT. I want LAW & ORDER!” the president said, with his characteristic flourish for capital letters and exclamation points.
The nation’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General William Barr, said from his standpoint there isn’t systemic racism in policing and most officers are doing their jobs correctly.
“I think there is racism in the United States still, but I don’t think the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” Mr. Barr said. “I understand the distrust, however, of the African American community given the history in this country.”
He told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that removing officers’ immunity, the centerpiece of Democrats’ expected legislation, would hinder law enforcement and “result certainly in police pulling back.”
Michael Avery, board president of the National Police Accountability Project, a nonprofit that advocates against police misconduct, said police have faced other times of distrust, including the late 1960s, the early 1990s after video of Los Angeles police beating Rodney King, and half a decade ago after the shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Of course in the 1960s there was a great deal of concern about police, but it would blow over after a while,” Mr. Avery told The Washington Times. “In the 50 years I’ve been a civil rights lawyer, I’ve never seen the concern stick the way it is now. It is not going away this time.”
He said defunding police departments is unrealistic but their budgets should be scoured.
“To the extent the police are buying little tanks, robots and incredible weapons and things of that sort, I would cut that way back,” he said, emphasizing he was speaking for himself and not his organization. “But I don’t think current concerns will be solved by defunding the police.”
He said solving a systemic problem will take time and determining whether changes are working might take decades.
“There is no quick fix because these problems and systemic and rooted in our society,” Mr. Avery said. “None of these things can be accomplished overnight, but departments have to signal they are interested in change.”
To send those signals, he said, departments could commit to more civilian oversight of police forces and increase transparency. Ensuring body cameras are working at all times and being more open to misconduct investigations would be a start, he said.
Officers must also improve their relationships with the communities they serve, said Richard Pozniak, who teaches crisis communications and lectures at police academies on maintaining a good reputation. He called for more social interaction between law enforcement and citizens. As examples, he said officers could introduce themselves and engage residents in polite conversation.
He also called for more stringent screening of recruits, including scrutiny of their mental health and their professional careers.
Protests during the past couple of weeks have exposed a willingness of some to take the fight straight to the police.
In Brooklyn, three officers were stabbed in a knife attack last week. At least five police officers were shot in St. Louis, and a federal officer was killed in Oakland, California, during early stages of the rioting.
Mr. Pozniak said the attacks illustrate the reputation crisis facing law enforcement. “Any police chief or law enforcement officer who doesn’t think their local department is impacted by what happened in Minneapolis is in complete denial,” he said.
Mr. Pozniak called the idea of eliminating departments “out of the box thinking, but it is so far-fetched, that it will never come into the sphere of reality.”
“Doing away with the traditional American police force in favor of the British bobby will not work in a country consumed with handguns and committing crimes against merchants,” he said.
He said he believes police can emerge better and more respected, but it will take work and substantial reform.
“I don’t think the trust is totally gone, but it is in bad shape,” he said.