WASHINGTON — In an effort to address rising crime rates, 19 mostly moderate House Democrats are urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote soon on bipartisan legislation that would increase funding for police departments across the country.
“As national crime rates increase, including homicides, car jackings, and assaults, now is the time to support local law enforcement through passage of bipartisan, bicameral commonsense legislation,” the Democrats wrote Friday in a letter to Pelosi, D-Calif., that was first shared with NBC News.
The letter is the latest sign that Democrats, fighting to preserve their fragile majority this fall, are concerned about rising crime and the “defund the police” messaging from progressives that contributed to the party’s loss of 13 House seats in the 2020 election.
Two vulnerable moderate Democrats — Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chair Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Cindy Axne of Iowa — spearheaded the letter, which was also addressed to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the top Democrat and the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
“Cutting to the bone only weakens any profession; it pushes good people out, diminishes overall quality, and fuels a race to the bottom. That’s especially true in law enforcement,” the lawmakers wrote. “To make our communities safer, build a future with less crime, and save lives, we should not defund — instead, we must invest to protect.”
Other Democrats who signed the letter include top GOP targets in the November midterms, such as Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Andy Kim of New Jersey, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan.
It was also signed by Democratic Reps. Ed Case of Hawaii, Antonio Delgado of New York and Sanford Bishop of Georgia.
Pelosi’s office declined to comment on the letter, but a senior Democratic leadership aide noted that the fiscal 2022 government funding package, signed into law March 15, included $3.9 billion for state and local law enforcement grants, roughly $500 million more than last year’s levels.
“Democrats passed a historic amount of funding for state and local law enforcement in this year’s appropriations bill, which increased money for police departments to fight crime and improve public safety in communities across the country,” the aide said. “This money builds on top of the critical hundreds of millions of dollars for police and first responders that Democrats passed in the American Rescue Package,” the $1.9 trillion Covid-relief bill President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021.
House GOP leaders and their campaign arm have been hammering vulnerable Democrats, calling them soft on crime and sympathetic to “defunding” the police as cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York experience significant rises in property crimes and violent assaults.
In the Loop area of downtown Chicago, carjacking, robbery and aggravated assault rates are all significantly higher this year compared to 2021, according to police data obtained by NBC Chicago. In New York City, overall crime was up by 34 percent last month compared to a year ago, driven by big increases in robberies, burglaries and carjackings, police said. At the same time, murders were down by 38 percent and shootings fell by 29 percent in April.
The 19 Democrats pushed back against the GOP attacks in their letter, saying they are following Biden's lead. In his State of the Union address, the president declared: “The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with resources and training.”
“We strongly support the President’s words and leadership and applaud the more than 10% increase in funding for State and local law enforcement in the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bill,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote.
“We write to request that the House bring legislation to the floor in the coming months to infuse our local police departments and their personnel with new resources to ensure our communities and officers are safe and secure and invest in our officers.”
The Invest to Protect Act, authored by Gottheimer and Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., calls for creating a grant program to fund a variety of materials and services, including body-worn cameras and mental health resources, as well as training for de-escalation and domestic violence response. It has 55 co-sponsors, including 19 Republicans.
A companion bill has been introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.; it is backed by Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. Both are top GOP targets in November.