House Democrats on Thursday approved legislation that would bring in millions of dollars for local law enforcement officers while improving police training and technology.
The four bills, which are unlikely to pass the Senate and become law, are designed to send a message: that Democrats support small police forces, but also improvements to police practices.
Democrats reached a breakthrough deal after months of feuds between progressives and centrists. President Joe Biden and other moderates have been working to distance the party from its “Defund the Police” slogan and summer 2020 activism, which they say has hurt the party’s electoral prospects.
As large-scale protests waned from 2020, so did the momentum for reform in Washington. The sizable George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which included some sweeping reforms to the police force, such as stranglehold restrictions, died earlier this year.
But key Democratic voting blocs in the House were wary of a bill that would increase police funding without any substantial reforms.
The Congressional Black Caucus, which includes Chairman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.), helped mediate talks between moderate and progressive Democrats about legislation.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said progressives have made significant concessions, such as limiting a subsidy program for small police departments to those with fewer than 125 officers, rather than the 200 originally proposed by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.), one of the most outspoken conservative Democrats in the House.
“We all have small police departments in our districts that have a really hard time detaining officers, especially when they compete with bigger districts,” Jayapal said.
The Gottheimer bill passed with 153 Republican votes and nine Democrats voted against. More than two dozen Republicans also voted in favor of a bill to help police departments hire more detectives.
While Thursday’s legislation has plowed money into local police departments, and though they themselves voted by a wide margin for one of the bills, Republicans said Democrats were simply trying to trick people into thinking they support the police.
“Crime is none of the business of Democrats in the House, but losing political support before the election terrifies them,” said R-Calif Rep. Tom McClintock.
The four bills aim to improve policing and cop resources, as well as de-escalate some clashes between police and the public. With the bill establishing the Small Department Grant Program, the money could 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 increase investigative resources for shootings and other violent crimes. The fourth bill would provide grants to states and tribal organizations to dispatch non-police officers who can better deal with citizens suffering from mental health crises.
“People have been asking to make the communities safer,” Beatty told reporters on Wednesday. “People have asked for mental health. We grant them that.”
Jayapal said progressives do not view the bills as the last word on police reform.
“It takes the call for real responsibility from the George Floyd. not gone [Justice in Policing Act] nature,” she said. “So that doesn’t stop there. This isn’t a substitute for that.”