Rep. Beyer: Calls to defund police ‘one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard’

Rep. Don Beyer recognizing Arlington First Responders, via Arlington County

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) swung by Arlington’s County Board last week to recognize 60 local first responders who responded to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

It’s the latest step in a complicated dance for the congressman as he faces a new primary challenger, and Democrats nationwide grapple over balancing public safety concerns as outcry over police killings and accusations of brutality continue.

“The ‘defund the police‘ slogan is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard,” Beyer told ARLnow, adding: “I do think it’s completely fair and appropriate to continue to look at ways of making policing more effective.”

The slogan gained attention nationwide in protests last year, which have left Democrats divided.

The cry to cut police funding took center stage last year after the murder of George Floyd. Advocates say the slogan is part of efforts to shift resources away from heavily militarized police departments to housing, mental health programs and other services.

Beyer said police reform can include making how much departments spend to settle with victims of police brutality more transparent, which is part of the Cost of Police Misconduct Act. But generally, Beyer’s approach to police reform includes more carrots than sticks.

Part of that approach is evident in the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act authored by Beyer, which offers grants to police departments for reporting hate crime statistics.

“Greatly strengthens reporting of hate crimes,” Beyer said. “Rather than punishing police for not collecting hate crime data, [the bill] gives them funding for doing it.”

Beyer said he supports the widespread use of body cameras, pushing to fund a pilot program in Alexandria and helping to ensure that U.S. Park Police are outfitted with body cameras after the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar. The congressman has been outspoken about seeking justice for Ghaisar’s family.

Beyer also believes in increased pay for police. Nationwide, police salaries have been increasing over the last few years. In Virginia, the mean income for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in 2020 was $60,190, though that doesn’t account for overtime.

“It’s about investing in the police to make them stronger and more effective, and part of that is increasing their incomes,” Beyer said. “There is strong research about the amount of education a police officer has and the likelihood of them being involved in police misconduct. What’s going to draw them? Better incomes.”

Beyer noted that members of the Capitol Police with whom he speaks regularly say they’re facing the same morale crisis that police departments are seeing nationwide, following outrage over a series of high-profile police shootings and violence. Last year, for instance, the Arlington County Police Department was called into D.C. to clear out protestors from Lafayette Square before they were recalled by county leadership.

“They’re really good people who are struggling right now,” Beyer said of the police force in general. “I read about the departures from police departments all over the country. That’s not sustainable. We have to make sure our police feel respected, and that includes independent citizen review. I was thrilled with Fairfax and now Alexandria set up independent citizen review. As we’ve seen too many times, it’s really hard to ask your peers to pass judgement on what you just did.”

The County Board voted last week to establish a new Community Oversight Board and Independent Policing Auditor, with subpoena powers, to investigate community complaints about police officers. The vote was criticized by the local NAACP for not going far enough in ensuring accountability.

In D.C., gun violence has surged over the last year. While Beyer said the causes for the increase are a complicated mix of issues related to poverty and discrimination, Beyer said there’s at least one immediate solution: appoint David Chipman as the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“I’m frustrated this wonderful guy, David Chipman, an ATF veteran that the president nominated him to lead ATF — it’s not clear that he’ll get through the Senate,” Beyer said. “[Opponents] fear that an ATF director will actually do something. There are more federally licensed firearms dealers in America than there are McDonald’s, but we have have no ATF director.”

Chipman passing Senate approval is unlikely, as even a single Democrat voting against his appointment would cause the vote to fail. Chipman’s critics decry the potential ATF Director’s advocacy for gun control.

“The 350 million guns in America are the big factor [on crime],” Beyer said. “It’s still way too easy for criminals and the mentally ill to get their hands on weapons. We’ve done virtually nothing about gun violence in this country. I think it’s naive to think just putting more police on the street is going to keep lowlifes from shooting each other from one corner to the other.”

The most recent example, Beyer said, was a shooting on 14th Street NW in D.C. that left two injured.

“That poor scene the other night on 14th Street — police were there in five seconds,” Beyer said. “Police were there in astonishing time, but that didn’t stop people from being badly wounded.”

Beyer’s 8th District seat is up for reelection in the 2022 election. The Democratic primary between Beyer and Victoria Virasingh is currently set for June 21, 2022.