Portland Police detain someone during the height of George Floyd protests in June 2020. Photo credit: Wesley Mclachlan

Defunding the police is not an option for the Justice Department, announces $139 million for law enforcement hiring

Activists’ prior demands to allocate law enforcement monies to other social services fall on deaf ears.

Last week, the Department of Justice announced that more than $139 million in grant funding will go to 183 law enforcement agencies across the nation. In total, the budget allows those agencies to hire 1,066 additional full-time law enforcement professionals. The initiative, part of the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), is an attempt to reduce crime and advance public safety by hiring more cops to carry out community policing.

“We are committed to providing police departments with the resources needed to help ensure community safety and build community trust,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a release by the Justice Department. AG Garland explained that the grants to hire more officers is “to support vitally important community oriented policing programs.”

With the past week of the highly politicized Kyle Rittenhouse trial ending in a not-guilty verdict, and the Ahmaud Arbery murder ending in the conviction of three white Georgia men, policing and justice came to another head. Rittenhouse is an Illinois teen driven by his mother from their home to Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the height of demonstrations of the police shooting and paralysis of Jacob Blake. While there, he killed two people, and injured one. In court, he faced homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangerment. He was found not-guilty on all charges.

On the other hand, Arbery was an African American jogger taking a run in a subdivision in Brunswick, Georgia, a coastal city. During his fitness routine, he was chased by several white residents then cornered and shot dead for no apparent reason. Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, were found guilty of 23 offenses. Now, they await sentencing. 

These two high-profile cases sparked multiple issues with how the police handle cases, and the ways in which the justice system is imbalanced: which provides impetus of “defunding the police,” for some. During the 2020 George Floyd demonstrations, a growing demand by demonstrators called for the defunding of law enforcement agencies. Chanted across the country, the “defund the police” dialogue about what defunding is, or what it looks like, ensued.

| Watch: Ark Republic Roundtable: George Floyd protests + Black Lives Matter Part 1

“American policing has never been a neutral institution,” wrote Paige Fernandez, Policing Policy Advisor, ACLU National Political Advocacy Department in an op-ed. She further explained, “When people ask for police reform, many are actually asking for this oppressive system to be dismantled and to invest in institutions, resources, and services that help communities grow and thrive.”

Eventually, the rallying cry to defund the police became a hotbed issue in electoral politics. In recent major elections, the GOP and a growing number of Democrats disagreed with the favorable discourse around defunding the police, causing it to flop at the ballot box. Later, in an attempt to point to Republican congress members for postponing the passage of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the Democrats flipped the script by accusing the Right for being the actual culprits in defunding the police via legislation. Because Republicans disagreed with releasing funds for law enforcement in some cities, Dems claimed this to be antithetical to their pro-police stance.

“The GOP already voted to block funding for local police departments, but last week they fully turned their back on law enforcement – picking violent insurrectionists over the heroic officers who protected them on January 6th,” tweeted Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

While the two major parties duke it out in the Congressional chambers, local municipalities have been fighting to implement some police reforms. In Birmingham, Alabama, a city cited as a high-drug trafficking area by law enforcement, the city’s mayor, Randall Woodfin partnered with the police department to revise how local law enforcement serves search warrants. Like Woodfin, in order to maintain a system of checks and balances, Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka has been attempting to grant subpoena power to his Civilian Complaint Review Board. He hopes this measure will hold Newark police more accountable. So much so, Mayor Baraka took the case before the U.S. Supreme Court after the N.J. State supreme court overturned a decision granting subpoena power to the board.

| Watch: Ark Republic Roundtable: George Floyd protests + Black Lives Matter Part 2

Yet and still, from the vantage point of the Justice Department, the way to go is to hire more cops. The new round of funding released will go to 41 law enforcement agencies seeking to address high rates of gun violence. In those police departments, 21 will focus on multiple areas of violence, while the other 19 plan to look at CHP resources on combating hate and domestic extremism or supporting police-based responses to persons in crisis. The cities where police departments will receive the most money are in Cincinnati ($6,250,000), Houston ($6,250,000), New Orleans ($7,266,305), San Francisco ($6,250,000), Miami ($6,250,000) and Chicago ($6,250,000). 

Since its creation in 1994, COPS has invested more than $14 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to more than 13,000 state, local and Tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of more than 135,000 officers. In the COPS fiscal year, it reports to have received 590 applications requesting nearly 3,000 law enforcement positions. For 2022, President Biden has requested $537 million for CHP, an increase of $300 million.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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