Republican attorneys general across the country are pushing back on calls to defund law enforcement agencies in the wake of the protests over police brutality and racial injustice – arguing that cutting budgets to police departments would be “extremely dangerous and reckless.”
Police departments have recently come under renewed scrutiny following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd’s death, along with that of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., fueled nationwide protests and elevated calls among some activists and demonstrators to defund the police.
But a number of Republican attorneys general say that cutting funding to police departments would only increase crime and not solve the issue of reforming law enforcement agencies. At least a dozen GOP AGs have spoken out against the push.
"Will the same liberals who want to 'defund the police' also be willing give up their security details?" Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted.
“Calls to defund and disband the police are extremely dangerous & reckless. That’s not the right answer,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said on Monday during a roundtable with President Trump at the White House. “We face incredible public safety challenges throughout the Commonwealth that can only be solved when law enforcement and our communities work together.”
Cameron’s home state has become a particular focal point of anger toward law enforcement after Breonna Taylor, an EMT and aspiring nurse, was killed when Louisville police allegedly carried out a no-knock warrant on her home. Taylor was shot eight times after Louisville police let off more than 20 shots inside her home, according to local reports.
The officers who stormed Taylor's house were executing a drug warrant in search of a male suspect who didn't live in her apartment complex, the reports said. It turned out he had already been detained by authorities before the warrant was executed.
While much of the furor over excessive force used by police has come following numerous incidents occurring in poor, predominately African-American neighborhoods, some attorneys general say that cutting police budgets would actually make those neighborhoods less safe.
“In a world where police are powerless and anarchy reigns free, the wealthy could afford to hire—and, as night follows day, certainly would hire—private security forces to protect themselves and their palatial estates,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement. “And what about the rest of society?”
Marshall added: “The truth of the matter is that the ‘elites’ promoting the ‘Defund the Police’ movement are too busy peddling lies about law enforcement and our country to care about the effects of the ideas they advance.”
Despite Marshall and other Republicans casting blame on “elites” and Democratic lawmakers, the “Defund The Police” movement is generally a grassroots effort from groups like Black Lives Matter, who argue that it isn’t necessarily about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money. They say it is time for the country to address systemic problems in policing in America and spend more on what communities across the U.S. need, like housing and education.
State and local governments spent $115 billion on policing in 2017, according to data compiled by the Urban Institute.
“Why can’t we look at how it is that we reorganize our priorities, so people don’t have to be in the streets during a national pandemic?" Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza asked during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Many Democratic lawmakers in Washington, even as they express sympathy with the cause, have also come out against cutting funding to embattled police departments.
Democrats in Congress proposed on Monday a far-reaching overhaul of police procedures and accountability, saying their proposal would not eliminate police departments — a decision for cities and states — but establish new standards and oversight.
Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, “does not believe that police should be defunded,” said spokesman Andrew Bates.
The Justice in Policing Act, the most ambitious law enforcement reform from Congress in years, confronts several aspects of policing that have come under strong criticism, especially as more and more police violence is captured on cellphone video and shared widely across the nation and the world.
The package would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police chokeholds, among other changes.
It would revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers who are involved in “reckless” misconduct and it would change “qualified immunity” protections to more broadly enable damage claims against police in lawsuits.
The legislation would ban racial profiling, boost requirements for police body cameras and limit the transfer of military equipment to local jurisdictions among other things.
Despite the push in Congress, many cities are taking matters into their own hands.
Minneapolis city officials appear to be taking the "defund" push literally, announcing a veto-proof majority to dismantle the department, despite objections from the mayor.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that the city would move funding from the NYPD to youth initiatives and social services, while keeping the city safe, but he didn't give details.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to cut as much as $150 million that was part of a planned increase in the police department’s budget.
Disbanding an entire department has happened before. In 2012, with crime rampant in Camden, New Jersey, the city disbanded its police department and replaced it with a new force that covered Camden County. Compton, California, took the same step in 2000, shifting its policing to Los Angeles County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.