U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, and Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa discuss their plans to introduce federal legislation to boost funding for local law enforcement as a strategy to fight crime. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — A small group of U.S. Senate Republicans sought to draw attention to U.S. crime rates Wednesday, saying they plan to introduce a bill that would direct more resources to state and local police departments as well as require the Government Accountability Office to study the amount of time it takes crime labs to process rape kits.
“We are offering solutions to combat this violent crime wave that is plaguing our nation and our cities,” said Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn during an afternoon press conference.
Blackburn was joined by fellow Republican Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Kennedy of Louisiana. Grassley, Johnson and Kennedy are up for reelection in November’s midterm elections in which Republicans are seeking to make Democrats’ record on crime a major issue.
The yet-to-be released bill, Blackburn said, would create a grant program for local and state police departments to hire more officers and detectives to focus on violent crimes as well as increase resources for police departments to address drug crimes.
Funding for federal law enforcement as well as grants for state and local police departments are typically handled through Congress’ annual appropriations process, not one-off bills such as the one the Republicans detailed. And it was unclear Wednesday if the legislation the Republicans plan to introduce at some point would garner the bipartisan support needed to get past the chamber’s 60-vote legislative filibuster, especially with little time left in the legislative session before lawmakers leave to campaign.
The most recent federal spending package, enacted in March with broad bipartisan support, appropriated $3.88 billion for grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to local and state law enforcement agencies, a 15% increase over the prior fiscal year’s bill, and $575 million for the Office on Violence Against Women grants, the highest funding level ever for that program.
The funding package also included $201 million for State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance and Community Oriented Policing Services, a program intended to improve relationships between police departments and the communities they serve. That represented a 31% boost in funding over the previous year’s level.
The GOP senators on Wednesday, in pushing for their future bill, recounted graphic details from numerous crimes, including the names of victims, before chastising Democratic lawmakers for their approach to police funding and police accountability.
Hagerty called on President Joe Biden to take unilateral action to address crime throughout the country, suggesting he’d like the White House to do something akin to so-called Operation Legend during the Trump administration.
That effort sent law enforcement personnel from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshals Service to Kansas City, Missouri, and several other cities during the summer of 2020 to address violent crime.
The initiative was hailed by then-President Donald Trump, who was in the final months of what would become a failed reelection campaign that led to a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after Trump refused to accept his electoral loss.
Hagerty on Wednesday urged Biden, the current president, to follow Trump’s example on federal law enforcement operations.
“We’ll work on it through legislation, but the president has the ability to step up right now, to help us address this,” Hagerty said. “We’re calling on him to do that.”
Kennedy of Louisiana said he believed the pathway to reducing crime will be through hiring more police officers, “to stop the retirements among our police officers” and to improve police morale.
He did, however, say that violent police should be held accountable—an issue Democrats have been calling on all police departments to address for years.
“I want to choose my words carefully. No one supports police abuse,” Kennedy said. “Do we have some bad cops? Sure. And when a cop intentionally breaks the law himself or herself and hurts somebody else, they should be punished, and in most cases they are.”
“But on the other hand, cops are not guilty until proven innocent,” Kennedy added.
Crime statistics vary throughout the United States with rates for various crimes rising at different levels in different cities or states, but on average violent crimes increased during 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Violent crime rates increased by more than 5% with the murder rate increasing by 29% and aggravated assault rates increasing by 12%, though the center’s analysis of 2020 crime statistics show rape rates decreased by 12% and robbery rates decreased by 10%.
Murders within cities rose by about 30% while murders in suburban and rural areas increased by about 20%, according to the Brennan Center’s analysis.
Property crimes, on average, decreased during 2020 by 8% with both burglary and larceny rates dropping, though motor vehicle theft increased by 11%.
“Despite politicized claims that this rise was the result of criminal justice reform in liberal-leaning jurisdictions, murders rose roughly equally in cities run by Republicans and cities run by Democrats,” according to the Brennan Center’s analysis, which it released in July. “So-called ‘red’ states actually saw some of the highest murder rates of all.”
The analysis notes that crime data “makes it difficult to pin recent trends on local policy shifts and reveals the basic inaccuracy of attempts to politicize a problem as complex as crime. Instead, the evidence points to broad national causes driving rising crime.”
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