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We shouldn’t defund the police, we must invest to protect

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In a rare public display of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats exploded with applause during the State of the Union earlier this month, when President Biden declared that we must “fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with the resources and training — resources and training they need to protect our communities.” That’s something many of us have been calling on for months and even years, especially given recent tragic news.

Over the last two years in the United States, we have lost more than 900 police officers in the line of duty, including, tragically, two heroic NYPD officers earlier this year. In New Jersey, my home state, we have lost 20 officers in the line of duty in the last two years alone. Across our country, murder rates spiked 27% in 2020. Violent crime is up, and homicides are at their highest level in nearly three decades.

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One thing is clear: We need to ensure our officers and police departments have all the tools they need to fight crime and protect themselves, our families, and our communities. To build a future with less crime and save lives, we must invest to protect. Whether that’s a road or a school, despite what some have proposed, you don’t get there by cutting or defunding. You need to invest, not defund.

Right now, more than 50 members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – are working to push forward legislation to invest in our local law enforcement. My bipartisan bill, the Invest to Protect Act, which I introduced with Congressman and former sheriff John Rutherford, R-Fla., focuses on smaller departments across the country.

I represent 79 towns in Northern New Jersey. The officers in these departments don’t have large budgets and staff, so things like cloud storage for body camera data and the necessary training and support for officers all put a huge strain on their budgets. If we want to protect our communities and officers, we must act now.

First, the bipartisan Invest to Protect Act will invest in officer safety, deescalation, and domestic violence response training, and will offset overtime pay for officers who are training. Second, this bipartisan bill will allocate resources for body-worn cameras while also providing much-needed funding for data storage and data security. Third, the bill will provide grants for small departments to recruit new officers — helping expand departments and bring in new, good officers. It will also provide retention bonuses to help departments keep their existing officers. Finally, the Invest to Protect Act will include critical resources for departments to provide mental health resources for their officers.

Demonstrators hold a sign reading “Defund the police” during a protest over the death of a Black man, Daniel Prude, after police put a spit hood over his head during an arrest on March 23, in Rochester, New York, U.S. September 6, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Now, does this bill cover everything? No, of course not. Are these critical steps to make much-needed investment in our local police? Yes.

Overall, this is about investing in the brave men and women in our departments — in their careers, their well-being, and their futures. That will make our communities safer.

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That’s why this bipartisan bill has already gained the support of the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), the National Sheriff’s Association, the National Troopers Coalition (NTC), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), and key law enforcement groups throughout my home state of New Jersey.

To get this legislation passed, I will keep working together with Democrats and Republicans to push commonsense bipartisan solutions forward. We need both sides of the aisle to come together to ensure we’re doing more to keep communities and our police officers safe. This new, bipartisan bill does that.

We also need communities across our nation to enforce the laws already on the books and do more to keep violent criminals off the street.

You cannot cut or defund your way to safer communities and better police departments.

Finally, cutting to the bone only weakens any profession; it pushes good people out, it diminishes the overall quality, and fuels a race to the bottom. That’s especially true in law enforcement. The only way to make a department better is to invest wisely, in training and tools, in recruiting and retaining the best talent, and in ensuring they can be involved in their community. We wouldn’t send our bravest into a burning building without an air tank, ladder, and a hose — and the training on how to use them. Why wouldn’t we do the same for law enforcement?

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As New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams, a former police captain, recently said, “I don’t subscribe to the belief of some that we can only have justice and not public safety. We will have them both.” Adams is exactly right. We can, and we will have both, thanks, in part, to new bipartisan legislation many of us in Congress are fighting for to help ensure safer, more just communities.

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We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We need progress, and we need to respect each other not create barriers and conflict between communities and officers.

You cannot cut or defund your way to safer communities and better police departments. Instead, we need to work together and invest to protect.
 

Democrat Josh Gottheimer is a U.S congressman from New Jersey’s Fifth District and is co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

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