Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
The America First Action ad edits Biden’s comment and takes it out of context.
Biden has repeatedly said he does not support defunding the police. He told an activist he is open to shifting some funds to social services such as mental health counseling.
Experts we consulted were mixed over whether defunding the police according to activists’ wishes would increase 911 wait times. Biden has proposed investing $300 million in a community policing grant program that could help hire officers.
A digital ad targeting former Vice President Joe Biden used edited video to suggest, wrongly, that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee would defund the police.
The 15-second ad, from conservative super PAC America First Action, selectively edits a clip from Biden’s interview with liberal activist Ady Barkan. While the text on the screen reads, "Defund the police?," Biden is seen on a TV saying, "Yes. Absolutely, yes."
The ad then cuts to a woman in a dark room. The woman is holding one hand over a child’s mouth and dialing 911 with another. The call goes to voicemail.
"You have reached 911," an operator says. "Due to budget cuts and increased criminal activity, our agents are busy assisting other callers."
"Mommy, I’m scared," the child says, as a figure is shown approaching the doorway and the text on the screen reads, "Police have fewer resources in Joe Biden’s America."
The ad was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) A 30-second version of the ad shows the parent and child hiding under a bed before calling 911.
The ad mischaracterizes Biden’s position on defunding the police, and its depictions of urgent 911 calls going unanswered exaggerate what many activists are asking for. As we've reported, most "defund" advocates do not want violence to run wild in a police-free state.
President Donald Trump, his campaign and his allies have repeatedly lumped Biden in with activists who have called to defund the police following the killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans by police. But Biden is against the idea.
"No, I don’t support defunding the police," Biden told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell in June. "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."
Activists’ calls for defunding the police have varied. Some want to eliminate police departments, while others want to reexamine their functions and redirect some funding to other services.
Biden has rejected support for those calls multiple times: in a spokesperson’s statement, in an op-ed, during fundraisers, in a number of local news interviews, and in response to a questionnaire from the Fraternal Order of Police, an organization of law enforcement officers.
He has instead proposed investing an additional $300 million in the Community Oriented Policing Services Program, or COPS, his campaign website says. The program, to which Trump previously proposed budget cuts, provides police departments with technical and training assistance, hiring grants and access to mental health and wellness resources.
Biden would also expand the Justice Department’s authority to investigate excessive force, unconstitutional policing and systemic misconduct. He has vowed to establish a national police oversight commission within 100 days of taking office, and he has urged other reforms.
In the Fraternal Order of Police questionnaire, Biden argued for "serious investments" in social services so police can focus on investigations and violent crime, writing that "that certainly makes more sense than eliminating police departments or defunding the police."
"He's desperate to run against a fictitious Joe Biden," said Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates.
America First Action is not the first to pounce on Biden’s interview with Barkan, which was edited and posted July 8.
Biden’s "absolutely" comment came after Barkan mentioned recent killings of Black Americans by police. Noting that protesters say redirecting some police funding to social services could reduce fatal police encounters, Barkan asked: "Are you open to that kind of reform?"
"Yes. I proposed that kind of reform," Biden said.
Biden went on to discuss the need for increased mental health services and police reforms such as transparency in misconduct records, and he decried police use of military-grade equipment.
At that point, Barkan interjected: "But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?"
"Yes. Absolutely," Biden replied, before the interview cut to Biden talking about the prison system.
The Biden campaign gave PolitiFact an unedited audio recording of that exchange. The recording shows that after Biden said he "proposed that kind of reform," he added, "And by the way, the idea though, that’s not the same as getting rid of or defunding all the police."
According to the recording, after, "Yes. Absolutely," Biden said: "And by the way, not just redirect, condition them. If they don’t eliminate chokeholds, they don’t get Byrne grants. If they don’t do the following, they don’t get any help."
The America First Action ad edited Biden’s answer to make it seem like he said, "Yes. Absolutely, yes." There was no second "yes." And it was not in response to a direct question about whether Biden supports defunding the police, as the ad suggests.
The ad also connects defunding the police to slow 911 responses, with the woman in the ad failing to get through to a dispatcher.
Criminal justice experts we spoke to were mixed about whether defunding police according to activists’ wishes would make it harder to get police on the line. Experts previously told us a Trump campaign ad warning of five-day wait times was an exaggeration.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor who now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said "unrelenting attacks on policing and police budgets may have devastating consequences for some individuals and communities," including with regard to police response times following 911 calls.
Other experts saw drawn-out wait times as less likely. Candace McCoy, a professor of criminal justice at John Jay, said the ad’s portrait of long 911 waits is "just scare tactics."
Seth Stoughton, associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina, said a goal for many "defund" activists is to "adequately invest in other aspects of social service and public safety infrastructure so that there is less need for police involvement."
That could give police more room to field 911 calls. "If we expand the public safety infrastructure by developing alternate capabilities of responding to certain emergencies, then we might actually preserve police resources for those calls that require a police response," he said.
America First Action on Facebook, July 24, 2020
America First Action Super PAC on YouTube, "On Hold," July 24, 2020
NowThis on YouTube, "Joe Biden's Emotional Conversation with Activist Ady Barkan | NowThis," July 8, 2020
Fraternal Order of Police, "Presidential Questionnaire," accessed July 28, 2020
ABC15 Arizona on YouTube, "RAW INTERVIEW: Joe Biden talks with ABC15's Steve Irvin," July 22, 2020
The Washington Post, "Biden leads by double digits as coronavirus takes a toll on the president, Post-ABC poll finds," July 19, 2020
Yahoo News! "Coronavirus — July 14, 2020," July 14, 2020
WBTV, "WBTV: 1-on-1 with former Vice President Joe Biden," July 14, 2020
WBRE, "One-on-one with presidential hopeful Joe Biden," July 9, 2020
Fox News, "Biden says some funding should 'absolutely' be redirected from police," July 8, 2020
Joe Biden for President, "Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations," July 8, 2020
New York Post, "911 response times could increase if NYPD headcount is slashed, sources say," June 24, 2020
The Brookings Institution, "What does ‘defund the police’ mean and does it have merit?" June 19, 2020
Spectrum News 1, "LAPD Union Warns of Longer 911 Response Times as Budget Cuts Loom," June 18, 2020
USA Today, "Biden: We must urgently root out systemic racism, from policing to housing to opportunity," June 10, 2020
CBS News, "Biden says federal aid to police should be based on meeting 'basic standards of decency,'" June 9, 2020
Bloomberg, "Trump Uses ‘Defund Police’ as Weapon Against Biden," June 8, 2020
The Los Angeles Times, "Op-Ed: Joe Biden: To end systemic racism, no one can stay silent. No one can ignore injustice," June 6, 2020
U.S. Department of Justice, "FY 2021 Performance Budget," February 2020
The Washington Post, "What Trump proposed in his 2020 budget," March 12, 2019
PolitiFact, "No, Joe Biden will not ‘abolish’ police or prisons, as Donald Trump said," July 17, 2020
PolitiFact, "Pence takes Biden’s comments on police funding, ‘enemy’ out of context," July 10, 2020
PolitiFact, "Ad Watch: Fact-checking the Trump campaign’s 'defunding the police' ad," July 8, 2020
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump falsely says Obama administration did not try to do police reforms," June 18, 2020
PolitiFact, "Joe Biden says he doesn’t want to defund police," June 9, 2020
PolitiFact, "‘Defund the police’ movement: What do activists mean by that?" June 9, 2020
Email interview with Andrew Bates, director of rapid response for the Biden campaign, July 28, 2020
Email interview with Kelly Sadler, communications director for America First Action, July 27, 2020
Email interview with Eugene O’Donnell, lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, July 28, 2020
Email interview with Seth Stoughton, associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina, July 28, 2020
Email interview with Candace McCoy, professor of criminal justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, July 28, 2020