Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott once said his 2020 police reform bill would “defund” local police departments from federal grants for non-compliance, but he later attacked Democrats for proposing the same policies.
Introduced in the summer of 2020, Scott’s JUSTICE Act was aimed at reforming the practices of local police departments in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
The bill, according to its text and summaries from the Congressional Research Services, in part used incentives from the federal government to force local police departments to enact change, withholding funding through two key programs from local police departments that did not comply with law.
“Our bill says that we will defund departments if they don’t ban chokeholds,” Scott said in one Facebook live in June 2020, describing one of the defunding provisions.
“You lose money from the federal government,” he added, if departments didn’t use body cameras. “It’s all tied to money. That’s the one penalty we can actually enact on the federal level.”
Senate Democrats blocked Scott’s bill shortly after it was introduced in June 2020, saying the bill inadequately addressed reforming law enforcement and police misconduct.
As Republicans took strong issue with the so-called “Defund the Police” movement – a slogan that gained popularity during the summer of 2020 in which supporters sought to redirect funds from police to other public services such as social work and mental health services or remove police funding entirely – Scott began to use the approach he had previously advocated for to attack Democrats.
“Is it OK to limit funding to grants if local police don’t meet a certain standard or don’t qualify based on some parameters? I say, no. They say yes,” Scott said in April 2022.
A Scott campaign spokesman said in a statement that Scott’s “focus has always been to provide more resources to departments while incentivizing reform.”
“As Democrats called for defunding the police, the senator worked with law enforcement for more net funding. To suggest otherwise is patently false,” said the spokesman, Nathan Brand.
The JUSTICE Act
The JUSTICE Act stipulated that state and local governments would not be eligible to continue to receive grant funding through two federal grant programs – the COPS program and the Bryne Program – unless police departments put in place certain reform practices.
The bill required the banning of chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases to continue to receive funding under the programs. It also put in place certain DOJ training requirements for new officers and compelled police departments to provide use of force data to FBI databases to maintain funding.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” in June 2020, Scott responded to a story from The Root, a left-leaning Black publication, which said that the bill’s mechanism of preventing departments from receiving funding if they failed to comply with the law was a version of defunding the police.
“God bless ‘The Root.’ It’s nice to have them on my side every blue moon. I’m not sure I would go with their conclusions. But, yes, it is important for us to use the resources that we provide to law enforcement, and a way to get them, to compel them towards the direction that we think is in the best interest of the nation, the communities that, they, they serve and frankly of the officers themselves,” said Scott.
“And I guess their point is if the, if the – police departments don’t do what you are asking, they will lose access to federal funds,” followed up Jon Karl, the show’s host. “So, so there would be an element of withholding funding here?
“Yes,” said Scott. “Very, very important aspect of our bill.”
Speaking with PBS, Scott made similar comments in summer 2020.
“In your proposal, you are saying these things should be tied to federal funding, that, if departments go ahead with them, they risk losing funding,” Scott was asked.
“Yes,” he responded.
Scott turns on removing funds in 2021
A year later, however, Scott was directly attacking Democrats for the same approach.
“We have about a billion dollars in grant money that goes to police,” Scott said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in September 2021. “When you start saying in order to receive those dollars, you must do A, B, and C, and if you don’t do A, B, and C, you literally lose eligibility for the two major pots of money – the Byrne grants and the COP grants, when you tell local law enforcement agencies that you are ineligible for money, that’s defunding the police. There’s no way to spin that.”
After Scott made his comments, the two major policing organizations – the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police – disputed his categorization that the Democratic bill defunded police departments.
“Despite some media reports, at no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police,’” the groups said in joint statement in September 2021. “In fact, the legislation specifically provided additional funding to assist law enforcement agencies in training, agency accreditation, and data collection initiatives.”
“What I did not agree to was the cuts that come from noncompliance,” Scott added on CBS. “When you say once again that in order for you to receive the money for the Byrne grants or the COP grants, you must do the following, and if you don’t do the following you lose money – that’s more defunding the police. We saw that tried throughout the country.”
The Democrats’ bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, like Scott’s bill, had requirements, albeit harsher ones, to continue to receive funds through the two programs. The bill required reporting use of force data, submitting misconduct records to a national database, the elimination of and training on racial profiling and independent audit programs, and passing laws banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases, among other provisions.
“I’m not gonna be a part of defunding the police by making them ineligible for the two major grants that come from the federal government to local police,” Scott added on Fox News in September 2021.
Scott made similar comments in April 2022.
“Is it OK to limit funding to grants if local police don’t meet a certain standard or don’t qualify based on some parameters? I say no. They say yes,” Scott said in April 2022. “You know, the whole defund the police conversation that’s been going on. And what we’ve seen is that unfortunately, a lot of the cities have literally tried defunding the police to see if it works. The answer is, it doesn’t work very well.”