- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Politicians are making clear during National Police Week that the days of “defund the police” are firmly in the past.

The rallying cry of the 2020 elections has been banished from all but the most extreme liberal corners of activism. From President Biden to big-city mayors, Democrats are embracing more police and decrying the recruiting crisis at many departments.

Mr. Biden, speaking Wednesday at a monument to slain officers, called police the “very best of America” and said he has been backing them “since Day One of my presidency.”

On Capitol Hill, House lawmakers rushed this week to pass bills to make it easier for localities to spend federal money to hire police, study anti-police violence and toughen enforcement against youth crime in the District of Columbia, which is under Congress’ direct jurisdiction.

The cop recruiting and anti-police violence bills drew strong bipartisan support, though the D.C. crime measure and another bill to require the Department of Homeland Security to detain and try to deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes drew far less Democratic backing.

Democrats who once championed defunding now say it’s a thing of the past.

“You all still talking about that? Why are you still talking about that?” Rep. Jamaal Bowman, New York Democrat, told The Washington Times. “That was from years ago.”

Mr. Bowman came to Congress as a defunding advocate but now says the issue is more nuanced.

“Listen, this is about a public health approach to public safety,” he said, characterizing his goal as “accountability” rather than defunding.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who once championed a proposal to replace Minneapolis’ police force, ducked questions about the defunding movement on Wednesday.

“I don’t have thoughts. I’m sorry,” she told The Times.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a wave of violent crime has touched even members of Congress. One lawmaker was assaulted in her apartment building, and another was carjacked at gunpoint.

Rep. John Rutherford, Florida Republican, said Democrats want to put their defund dalliance in the past.

“They’re backtracking because they see all the crime. That’s the result of their policy,” said Mr. Rutherford, a former sheriff in Duval County.

Rep. Jefferson Van Drew, New Jersey Republican, agreed.

“They realized there was a backlash to it, and they looked at the statistics and realized that when you defund the police, your crime rate goes up,” he said. “So I think they’re starting to get it.”

Still, he said, he sees signs that Democrats aren’t as enthusiastic as Republicans in supporting police.

“They still are diminishing in some ways and demeaning, and that’s why there are record low numbers of people applying for the job of being a police officer,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said he doesn’t think Democrats have fully learned the lesson despite a political cost.

“Their anti-police attitude has cost them in a number of elections, yet they still coddle that anti-police and pro-criminal attitude,” he said.

He cited illegal immigration and Democratic votes against get-tough policies for migrants who were caught and released and then ran afoul of the law.

The movement had limited accomplishments after local politicians in liberal jurisdictions cut police funding. Politicians reversed their positions as the pandemic crime wave peaked and started returning money to budgets.

In a sign of just how far the politics have flipped, it was Democrats on Wednesday who accused Republicans of trying to defund police through broader attempts to tame the federal deficit.

“At every single juncture, when Republicans have had a chance to put their money where their mouth is, they have shown that all their pro-police rhetoric is just that — rhetoric,” said Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “They will say whatever they need to win political support from police and then hope the cops don’t notice when they vote to gut their budget.”

Liberals have studied the defunding movement’s failure. Some say the slogan was befuddling and turned off middle America. Some analysts say the point was reform, but that got lost in the weeks and months after the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Other defund activists saw promise in the movement but felt betrayed by Democratic Party leaders, with particular blame on Mr. Biden.

In the 2020 campaign, as other politicians flirted with the idea, Mr. Biden declared it a nonstarter.

Except for some aspects of immigration, he never seriously tried to cut the budget for federal law enforcement.

Vice President Kamala Harris was a more vocal supporter in 2020. Although she did not embrace the totality of the calls, she helped raise money for the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which bailed out people involved in the chaos in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death. She also praised Los Angeles when its mayor proposed cutting $150 million from the police budget.

A year later, Los Angeles reversed course and began returning funding.

Jeff Mordock and Alex Miller contributed to this story.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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