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In a screen grab from ABC's Aug. 23 airing of "20/20," Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is seen speaking to journalists David Muir and Robin Roberts in his first joint interview with running mate Sen. Kamala Harris. In a screen grab from ABC's Aug. 23 airing of "20/20," Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is seen speaking to journalists David Muir and Robin Roberts in his first joint interview with running mate Sen. Kamala Harris.

In a screen grab from ABC's Aug. 23 airing of "20/20," Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is seen speaking to journalists David Muir and Robin Roberts in his first joint interview with running mate Sen. Kamala Harris.

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg August 25, 2020

Biden says Trump wants to cut local law enforcement aid. That’s correct

If Your Time is short

  • The Trump administration would cut about half a billion from overall state and local law enforcement aid.

  • A program that subsidizes local police hiring would be cut about $170 million.

  • Not all the affected programs provide direct aid to local police.

On the opening day of the Republican nominating convention, a frequent refrain was that Democratic nominee Joe Biden wants to defund the police.

The attack is inaccurate. In a June op-ed in USA Today, Biden wrote that "the better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms."

After securing the nomination, Biden was asked by ABC News if he wanted to defund the police.

"No I don’t," Biden said Aug. 23.

He then pivoted to President Donald Trump.

"By the way, he proposes cutting a half a billion dollars of local police support," he said.

Trump is running as the law-and-order president, and cutting police support would seem inconsistent with that.

We asked the White House press office staff about the charge and they sent us to the Trump campaign, which said Biden was exaggerating. They also sent us material showing cuts that happened during the Obama-Biden administration.

But Biden was talking about what Trump is proposing to do today, and the best place to resolve the accuracy of that lies in the latest budget documents.

Based on a broad definition of support for local law enforcement, Biden has a point.

State and local law enforcement assistance

At the Justice Department, support for state, local and tribal law enforcement flows through the Office of Justice Programs. Or, to be totally accurate, that’s how the administration would like it to be after some program reshuffling. Congress has the final word, but we’re focused on the administration’s budget proposal, since that is what Biden was talking about.

In its budget plan for fiscal year 2021, the Justice Department proposed funding state and local law enforcement through more than 75 different programs.

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In FY 2020, Congress appropriated $1.89 billion through these programs. In FY 2021, the Trump administration requested $1.51 billion — a reduction of $380 million. (Practically speaking, the cut is $280 million because $100 million of the reduction is related to security for the Republican and Democratic political conventions. That money wouldn’t be needed in FY 2021.) 

In addition, the Trump budget proposed a separate $170 million cut and reorganization of a community policing initiative, Community Oriented Policing Services, that dates back to the days of President Bill Clinton. 

After all the moving around of programs, the net reduction is $515 million. (The numbers get tricky because the COPS money shows up in the FY 2021 total.)

Tough to define local police support

The biggest caveat to Biden’s number isn’t so much the dollar amount as the programs those dollars pay for. The more than 75 programs in the state and local law enforcement category cover a lot of ground.

"The State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance programs largely consist of grant funding to support non-federal law enforcement, though some programs support other entities and tangentially support law enforcement through outcomes like crime prevention and improved administration of justice," said Maureen Q. McGough with the Policing Project at NYU School of Law.

Funding goes to uses as diverse as body cameras on police, veterans drug abuse courts, offender re-entry training, and anti-human-trafficking efforts.

People often lump the Office of Justice Programs together as aid for law enforcement, but law professor Rachel Harmon at the University of Virginia suggests a broader definition.

"It might be better to call them public safety resources because some of the programs fund goals, such as improving juvenile indigent defense, that contribute to justice and public safety, but do not directly benefit law enforcement agencies," Harmon said.

Both Harmon and McGough said it is challenging to tease out the parts that aid local enforcement.

Our ruling

Biden said that Trump proposes cutting half a billion dollars from local police support.

According to the Trump administration’s budget requests, Biden’s number is about right. 

The biggest area of interpretation is what counts as local police support. There is no question that Trump proposed a $170 million cut for the program that subsidizes community police initiatives, Community Oriented Policing Services. Beyond that, the Justice Department offers a wide range of programs. Some provide direct aid to local law enforcement, but some do not.

One expert we reached said most of these programs do provide direct aid. Another said they all aim to advance public safety at the local level.

The claim is largely accurate but requires additional information. That’s our definition of Mostly True.

 

Our Sources

ABC News, TRANSCRIPT: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris' first joint interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Aug. 23, 2020

USA TODAY, "Biden: We must urgently root out systemic racism, from policing to housing to opportunity," June 11, 2020

U.S. Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services, March 12, 2020

U.S. Department of Justice, "FY 2021 Performance Budget," February 2020

Congressional Research Service, Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program, Jan. 30, 2020

NPR, How Federal Dollars Fund Local Police, June 9, 2020

PolitiFact, Ad Watch: Super PAC attacks Biden in misleading ‘defund the police’ ad, July 29, 2020

PolitiFact, No, Joe Biden isn’t 'on board with defunding police', Aug. 5, 2020

Email exchange, Maureen Q. McGough, chief of staff, The Policing Project, NYU School of Law, Aug. 24, 2020

Email exchange, Rachel Harmon, professor of law and director of the Center for Criminal Justice, University of Virginia Law School, Aug. 25, 2020

Interview, Michael Gwin, spokesman, Biden for President, Aug. 24, 2020

Interview, Zach Parkinson, spokesman, Trump for President, Aug. 24, 2020

 

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Biden says Trump wants to cut local law enforcement aid. That’s correct

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