Biden clarifies position on defunding police as Republicans continue attacks

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden voiced his support for law enforcement as much of his party is torn over a push to "defund the police" during a local news interview after his speech in Pittsburgh on Monday.

"Let's get the facts straight, I not only don't want to defund the police. I want to add $300 million to their local budgets to deal with community policing to get police and communities back together again," Biden told KDKA.

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"The only person defunding the police is the president," he continued. "Look at his budget. He calls for a half a billion dollar cut in local law enforcement. This president, they just flat lie."

With many people calling attention to racial inequality in the justice system, Biden also addressed accusations that the U.S. is a racist country.

"No, but racism has to be dealt with. It's a very small minority of people," he told KDKA on Monday.

Biden arrives at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, Pa., en route to speak at a campaign event in Pittsburgh, Pa., Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In June, when "defund the police" became a rallying cry for many of the protesters demanding justice for George Floyd, Biden called for police reform but said he did not support defunding police departments.

Biden said he wants reforms including more funding for public schools, summer programs and mental health and substance abuse treatment, including a $300 million investment in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

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Biden has previously said that President Trump wants to cut funding for local law enforcement by roughly $500 billion, a claim that PolitiFact has rated as "Mostly True." Trump's FY 2021 budget proposal would reduce Justice Department funding for state and local law enforcement by $380 million compared to FY 2020, and the president's budget would also cut COPS by $170 million, according to PolitiFact.

A protester holds up a sign as a police helicopter flies by in front of the South Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department during protests following the death of Dijon Kizzee on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)

Biden said he supported conditional funding for police departments in a July video interview with NowThis conducted by progressive activist Ady Barkan.

"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," he said. "If they don't do, because you know as well as I do, the vast majority of all police departments are funded by the locality, funded by the municipality, funded by the state. It's only the federal government comes in on top of that, and so it says you want help, you have to do the following reforms, you have to make sure you have no-knock warrants eliminated, if you have them, you don't get Byrne grants."

Byrne grants through the Justice Department are the "leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions," according to the program's webpage.

That video interview resurfaced this week when Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., removed an edited video of Biden and Barkan he posted on Twitter after backlash that the clip was "doctored" to portray the Democratic presidential nominee as supporting the defunding of police.

Biden answered, "yes, absolutely" to a question from Barkan about whether "we can redirect some of the funding" to police during an early July interview. That exchange has been held up as proof by the Trump campaign and Republicans that Biden does want to defund police — they equate redirecting funding from police departments, presumably decreasing the police budgets, with defunding police.

A short clip of the interview posted by Scalise edited Barkan's voice to add the words "for police" to the end of Barkan's question asking Biden whether "we can direct some of the funding," despite the fact that Barkan did not say "for police" at the end of the question. The context of the original exchange made clear that Barkan was talking about redirecting police funding, but the edit drew strong criticism nevertheless.

"That's not the same as getting rid of or defunding all the police," Biden told Barkan in July. "You cannot send my daughter, who has her master's degree in social work, she is one who engages in dealing with all those problems. … When you get a call to a third-story walk-up in a domestic dispute, you can't send a social worker, because a social worker may get shot too. So what happens you, what do you do, you can send along a social worker with a police officer."

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Conservatives have continually called out Biden for saying he supports redirecting funding while dodging being associated with the "defund the police" crowd.

"That's Washington speak for defunding," White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told "The Story" last week. "You know, you can't really allocate from one bucket without taking from that bucket to put in a different bucket."

Fox News' Tyler Olson contributed to this report.

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