Defund the police? Not if NJ’s top Democrats have anything to say about it
New Jersey's top Democrats, including the state's highest ranking Black official, have gone on record not supporting calls to "defund the police," which sprung up among activists in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May.
Republicans have been using the slogan as a cudgel against opponents, with President Donald Trump falsely claiming the Joe Biden supports defunding police, which he does not.
The idea also has not gained traction among leading Democrats in the Garden State, which began taking other approaches to change law enforcement policies and improve police-community relations before this year.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver on Friday marked the 9/11 anniversary with a speech that rejected the concept.
“To law enforcement, I want to share a message with you: We need you, we appreciate you, and want you to know with all the noise that’s going on, we will never defund you,” NJ.com quoted her as saying.
“Our first responders are the ones that paid a price on that day,” she said about the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. "It was the first responders that saved lives.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, one of the more progressive governors in the nation, has also demurred when questioned about the movement. On Friday, he reiterated that he supports investing more in education, health care and programs that "overwhelmingly" help people of color.
"It's less about what you're doing with law enforcement than it is what you're doing with the surrounding community investments," Murphy said. "What's your holistic overall investment look like?"
Murphy on Friday applauded State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal for "deepening" police and community engagement.
"Not only have we come along way," Murphy said, "but I'd hold us up against any other place in the nation."
While countless groups in New Jersey held rallies, marches and demonstrations this summer against racism and police misconduct, New Jersey has not seen the kind of unrest and violence that has erupted elsewhere in the nation.
The "defund the police" ideas touted by some progressives range from eliminating police departments altogether to reallocating funding from law enforcement agencies in order to boost budgets of social services, which is what governing bodies have done in Seattle, San Francisco, New York City and Austin, Texas.
More mainstream Democrats support expanding social service programs but not at the expense of police.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who is Black and supports other reforms such as empaneling a civil police review board, has derided calls for defunding or dismantling police as a "knee-jerk" and "bourgeois liberal" solution that wouldn't work in the state's largest city.
“At the end of the day, I think that the city and the residents here need police officers in their communities,” he said in June.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop also is not on board. In June he said that his city's spending on social service programs has grown at a faster rate than the police department's budget as crime has fallen.
"Of course, I’m always willing to look at options to spend more money on social services. Our track record speaks to this with tangible results, but I’m not willing to take steps that would be counterproductive to public safety," Fulop said.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.