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Electoral Safety First

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eye on the news

Electoral Safety First

President Biden’s police-funding proposal seems mostly a political exercise. August 11, 2022
Public safety
Politics and law

Embedded in President Biden’s 2023 budget proposal is the Safer America Plan, which includes $35 billion to support law enforcement and crime prevention plus a $2 billion discretionary request. Aiming to “save lives and make communities safer,” the plan would facilitate the hiring and training of 100,000 state and local police officers. But rather than being a serious proposal to prevent crime, the package seems more of a political tactic—a way for Democrats to shed their “defund the police” baggage in an election season.

Start with the plan’s priorities. While the budget asks for $13 billion to hire and train new officers, it also asks for $15 billion to accelerate criminal-justice reforms. That money, per a White House fact sheet, would cultivate “community violence interventions” to be led by trusted messengers—likely social workers, crisis-intervention workers, and “violence interrupters,” who could respond to situations instead of police. Another $5 billion would pay for programs designed to “stop crime before it occurs.” Imagine what programs academic researchers and social-equity entrepreneurs will develop to secure these dollars. And about $3 billion would go toward clearing up court backlogs (many caused by pandemic closures); solving homicides; taking violent criminals off the streets; imposing tougher penalties for fentanyl trafficking; heightening the liability of online marketplaces that sell stolen goods; and keeping “dangerous firearms out of dangerous hands.”

Some of these goals are laudatory, especially those that would create more capacity in the criminal-justice system. But they’ll require cooperation from prosecutors, some of whom, in cities across the country, have resisted using existing criminal codes to charge arrestees, giving no indication that they are eager to increase criminal prosecutions.

Critics have compared the Safer America Plan to President Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The Crime Bill, as it is more commonly known, also pledged to hire 100,000 cops and increased penalties for many drug crimes—criminal-justice reform advocates often identify it as an important culprit behind “mass incarceration.” The American Civil Liberties Union clearly had the Crime Bill in mind when it expressed support for the Safer America Plan’s crime-prevention sections but denounced it for “repeating yesterday’s mistakes” by hiring 100,000 additional police officers and perpetuating “the war on drugs by calling for harsh new penalties for fentanyl offenses.” The National African American Reparations Commission termed the Biden proposal “troubling.” Yet progressive lawmakers have been silent. Their curious lack of outrage suggests that they don’t think the plan will be seriously considered in Congress.

President Biden’s pro-police posturing started with a February 4 visit with New York City mayor Eric Adams, New York governor Kathy Hochul, and high-ranking cops at Police Headquarters. It continued in Biden’s State of the Union address in March, when he promised “not to defund the police” but to “fund [them] with resources and training.” Does the president’s Safer America Plan reflect a genuine plan of action—or a strategy to make Democrats safer in November?

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

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