The conversation around overhauling policing in the United States continues amidst the ongoing protests against racism and police brutality, and there are plenty of ideas coming from activists. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hasn't gone all in on defunding the police, but he has made some concessions toward more progressive movements calling for the reallocation of some police funds to communities. To get a handle on where Joe Biden stands on police reform, you can look to his recent statements on the matter.
In an effort to bring more progressive ideas into his platform, Biden recently worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders to draft a 110-page Unity Force Task document, which was released on July 8 and includes his administration's stance on reforming the criminal justice system as well as his plans for combating the climate change crisis and rebuilding the economy with green jobs post-COVID.
While President Trump incorrectly stated during a July 19 interview that his political opponent's Unity Task Force document supports abolishing police, the reality is that [Biden's viewpoints lean more in the middle while advocating for some reallocation of police funds.] Biden hopes to repair the system by giving law enforcement more money. This is in contrast to the defund the police movement, which argues that the law enforcement system is broken beyond reform and needs to be defunded in order to help the communities it claims to serve.
In a June 10 op-ed shared on USA Today, Biden said he plans to add an additional $300 million in funding to police departments to help improve the relationships between law enforcement and their communities. "I've long been a firm believer in the power of community policing — getting cops out of their cruisers and building relationships with the people and the communities they are there to serve and protect," he wrote. "Every single police department should have the money they need to institute real reforms like adopting a national use of force standard, buying body cameras, and recruiting more diverse police officers."
Biden's campaign rapid response director Andrew Bates reiterated this stance in a June 8 statement to NPR, "Vice President Biden does not believe that police should be defunded. 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."
However, Bates hinted that Biden does align with the defund the police movement's tenet of re-allocating funds from departments towards community initiatives. In the same statement, Bates said the additional $300 million under Biden's criminal justice plan would include money for reforms such as "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."
Bates also said the additional money would "provide the training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths," including having officers wear body cameras, and would go "toward diversifying police departments so that they resemble the communities in which they serve."
Biden has held public office for more than 40 years, and his latest thoughts on policing are much different than ideas he put forward decades ago. As a senator serving the state of Delaware, Biden wrote a 2002 op-ed for Delaware State News pushing for more police as a way to curb crime. According to ABC News, Biden wrote at the time, "What works in the fight against crime? It’s simple — more police on the streets." In the piece, he wrote, "Put a cop on three of four corners and guess where the crime is going to be committed? On the fourth corner, where the cop isn’t. More cops clearly means less crime."
But 18 years after pushing for more officers in the streets, Biden appears open to more progressive ideas. In a July 8 NowThis News interview with activist Ady Barkan, Biden said he was "absolutely" open to reallocating funds from police departments to overhaul the criminal justice system. "One of the things that we also need to be doing is fundamentally changing the way we deal with our prison system. It should be a rehabilitation system, not a punishment system. We're going to make sure you're qualified for every single right you had before you went to prison if you served your time," he said. Currently, people who have been convicted of crimes may lose voting rights or have limited employment options, among other long-lasting effects of incarceration, once they're released from prison.
The presidential hopeful also reiterated that he doesn't believe police forces need military-style equipment and condemned no-knock warrants, such as the one that led to the police killing of Breonna Taylor, as "bizarre."
"Surplus military equipment for law enforcement? They don't need that," Biden said. "The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into the neighborhood, it is like the military invading, they don't know anybody, they become the enemy. They're supposed to be protecting these people."
Biden's thoughts on policing have run the gamut over the years, but as he approaches the November 2020 presidential election, it appears the presumptive Democratic nominee is open to considering more progressive reforms.