“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in an interview with CBS while in Houston to meet with the family of George Floyd, whose death last month as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck set off nationwide protests. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”
Biden’s campaign had said earlier Monday that he backs advocates’ calls to increase spending on social programs separate from local police budgets, but he also wants more funding for police reforms such as body cameras and training on community policing approaches.
“Vice President Biden does not believe that police should be defunded,” campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “He hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change, and is driven to ensure that justice is done and that we put a stop to this terrible pain.”
The comments came as President Donald Trump and his campaign sought to tie Biden to calls to “defund the police,” which have emerged in recent days at protests over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“Defund the Police” has emerged as a rallying cry for some protesters. It generally refers to shrinking the scope of police responsibilities to public safety and changing the tactics police officers and departments use, while redirecting some funding to other entities – especially in marginalized communities – such as social services and counselors instead of police officers in schools.
Biden’s campaign rejected the phrase “defund the police” and called for more funding for police departments to implement policy changes. But the former vice president also supports some of the principles the phrase’s advocates champion.
In the statement, Bates said that Biden supports “the urgent need for reform – including funding for public schools, summer programs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from funding for policing – so that officers can focus on the job of policing.”
Biden is calling for more funding for training, community policing programs, hiring more diverse police forces and body cameras for police officers.
“There are many police departments across the country who are seeking to realize these kinds of changes, but haven’t had the resources to – and the Trump administration has in fact made obtaining those resources more difficult,” Bates said. “This is at the core of Joe Biden’s plan to bring transformative change to our criminal justice system.”
Biden has called for an additional $300 million in funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services program, which would allow more police officers to be hired and pay for training on community policing approaches.
The Trump attacks on Biden over the phrase “defund the police” are the latest iteration of tactics Trump has used for decades – and in his political campaigns. He declared himself the “law and order” candidate in 2016.
But since then, the tactic has not always translated to electoral success. In 2017, he and other Republicans warned during the Virginia governor’s race of the threat of the MS-13 gang. And in the 2018 midterm elections, Trump and Republicans lambasted progressives’ calls to “abolish ICE.” Both times, Democrats won.
Trump, whose administration last week oversaw the use of tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House in order to clear a path for a Trump photo outside a church, has tweeted attacks seeking to latch Biden to calls to defund the police.
“I want great and well paid LAW ENFORCEMENT. I want LAW & ORDER!” Trump tweeted Monday.
Trump’s campaign repeated the attacks on Biden during a Monday call.
“Biden has made only a passing reference to the violence in our cities and has barely mentioned the attacks on police at all,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told reporters. “As the protesters like to say, ‘silence is agreement.’ By his silence, Joe Biden is endorsing defunding the police.”
This story has been updated with comments from Biden.