Fact Check: Did Joe Biden Say He Wants to ‘Defund the Police’?

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Getty Several ads have come out accusing Biden of wanting to defund police. Here's what he said about that.

Joe Biden was the subject of new political advertisements from Donald Trump, called “Break-in,” as well as “Abolished,” both of which outright say or imply that Biden supports “defunding police.” However, Biden has vehemently disputed that claim and explicitly said he doesn’t support “defunding the police.”

The “defund the police” movement has received renewed attention after the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other African Americans who have died after encounters with the police.

However, what it actually means depends on who you ask.

Some activists who are using the phrase are calling for a complete disbanding of police departments. Others who are using the phrase are asking local governments to reallocate funds towards health, employment, housing and other needs, which they argue would reduce crime and make police officers’ jobs easier.

Here’s what you need to know about Joe Biden’s stance on the issue.


1. What Does Defunding the Police Mean?

According to the Washington Post, defunding the police is typically understood as reallocating resources that will ultimately reduce the sources of crime and allow police to focus more on violent crimes.

(Defunding the police) generally does not mean eliminating the police. Instead, advocates want to redirect some funds now spent on police forces to items such as education, public health, housing and youth services. The idea is that low-income communities would become stronger — and less in need of police — if root problems were addressed.

Under this concept, some police officers would be replaced with trained social workers or specialized response teams in an effort to let police focus on violent crime, not drug overdoses or homelessness. The theory is that police would be better positioned to deal with rapes and murders if they were not required to deal with other social ills that sometimes lead to community confrontations with police.

An article from the Brookings Institution even noted that the word “reallocate” is more in line with the theory, yet “defund” is more of an attention-grabber. The term’s spectrum of meanings — from eliminating police forces to reallocating some money — means Americans respond very differently to the message, which means the wording of political campaign ads can affect how candidates feel about the target of those ads.

For example, a poll from the research firm PerryUndem found that among 1,115 adults, most didn’t support defunding police departments, but 72% did support “reallocating” police funding to mental health experts for mental health emergencies, for example.


2. The Ad ‘Break In’ Says That ‘Biden Wants to Reduce Police Funding’

Break InText TRUMP to 880222020-07-20T19:34:43Z

The ad “Break In” shows an older white woman, sitting on a sofa in the dark and watching a news broadcast as a news anchor says, “… Seattle’s pledge to defund its police department by 50%, even including a proposal to remove 911 dispatchers from police control.”

As this is occurring, a shadowy black figure is moving behind the windows, leading the woman to become frightened and reach for her landline and dial 911.

The audio switches to a different news anchor, who says, “Joe Biden says he’s absolutely on board with defunding the police” and then plays a clip of Biden saying, “Yes, absolutely.” On the screen, a statement appears, which reads, “Biden wants to reduce police funding.”

At the same time, the old 911 system is telling the woman, “Hello, you’ve reached 911. I’m sorry that there is no one here to answer your emergency call but leave a message and we will answer you as soon as we can.”

The man who broke into the woman’s house with a crowbar then appears in front of her, the phone falls to the floor and another news anchor states, “Crime will rise significantly…” before the image cuts to black.

A line reads, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”


3. Another Ad, ‘Abolished,’ Says Biden’s Supporters Are ‘Fighting to Defund Police Departments’

AbolishedJoe Biden's allies are doing everything they can to Defund the Police. If you call 911, who will answer the phone? You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.2020-07-02T20:05:49Z

In another ad, called “Abolished,” a reimagined 911 message plays as images of violence are flashed on the screen and a statement about Joe Biden is also put on the screen.

Here is the 911 voice-recording:

You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry, but no one is here to take your call. If you’re calling to report a rape, please press 1, to report a murder, press 2, to report a home invasion, press 3. For all other crimes, leave your name and number and someone will get back to you. Our estimated wait time is five days. Goodbye.

The statement about Joe Biden says that it is quoting a June 24 ABC News article and features the two statements: “Joe Biden’s supporters are fighting to defund police departments. Violent crime has exploded. You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”


4. Biden Said He Does Not Support Defunding Police

Joe Biden on policing in AmericaFormer Vice President Joe Biden says there is "absolutely" systemic racism in law enforcement, but noted the problem is much broader than just law enforcement. Biden made the comments in an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell in CBS News' primetime special "Justice for All."2020-06-10T03:27:35Z

In an opinion piece that Joe Biden wrote in June, he explicitly said that he does not support “defunding the police. One of his sub-headlines in that article read, “Don’t defund police, support reforms,” and underneath that, Biden made his position clear:

While I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments violating people’s rights or turning to violence as the first resort, I do not support defunding police. The better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms.

During a CBS interview, Biden told news anchor Norah O’Donnell, “I don’t support defunding the police… I support conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.”

According to 12 News, Biden told one of the station’s news anchors, Mark Curtis, “I don’t think we should be defunding police departments. I think we should be holding police departments responsible.”

When he spoke with activist Ady Barkan, he said he supported redirecting funds used to purchase surplus military equipment, not defunding police departments. Here is how the exchange between the two went:

Biden: “Surplus military equipment for law enforcement. They don’t need that. The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into a neighborhood. It’s like the military invading. They don’t know anybody. They become the enemy. They’re supposed to be protecting these people. So, my generic point is that–”

Barkan: “But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?”

Biden: “Yes. Absolutely.”

The claim that Biden supports defunding police has been rated false by Politifact, FactCheck.org, Reuters, the Washington Post and multiple other news outlets.


5. Biden Has Pledged to Spent $300 Million on the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program

The Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to JusticeToday, too many people are incarcerated in the United States – and too many of them are black and brown. To build safe and healthy communities, we need to rethink who we’re sending to jail, how we treat those in jail, and how we help them get the health care, education, jobs, and housing they…2019-07-23T09:57:41Z

On a video posted on September 8, Biden brought up his reinvestment plan for local police while addressing the recent ads accusing him of wanting to defund police.

“I not only don’t want to defund the police, I’m the one calling for $300 million more for local police for community policing,” Biden said in response. “I also think we should add social workers and psychologists to help police on 911 calls.”

According to Biden’s campaign platform on criminal justice, he wants that $300 million to go to a program that was originally funded through the 1994 Crime Bill:

Biden spearheaded the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which authorized funding both for the hiring of additional police officers and for training on how to undertake a community policing approach. However, the program has never been funded to fulfill the original vision for community policing. Biden will reinvigorate the COPS program with a $300 million investment. As a condition of the grant, hiring of police officers must mirror the racial diversity of the community they serve. Additionally, as president, Biden will establish a panel to scrutinize what equipment is used by law enforcement in our communities.

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