Jun 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders pushes back on idea of abolishing police departments

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) distanced himself from the idea of abolishing or defunding police departments in a wide-ranging interview with the New Yorker published Tuesday, instead calling for more training and higher pay for officers as part of sweeping criminal justice reform.

Why it matters: The "defund the police" movement has gained traction among activists and some progressives in the wake of George Floyd's death. The goal is to redirect police funding toward housing, public health, education and other resources that would increase quality of life for black communities.

Sanders received criticism from some progressives for proposing better resources to ensure police officers are paid attractive wages.

  • "Do I think we should not have police departments in America? No, I don’t. There’s no city in the world that does not have police departments."
  • "What you need are — I didn't call for more money for police departments. I called for police departments that have well-educated, well-trained, well-paid professionals."
  • "And, too often around this country right now, you have police officers who take the job at very low payment, don't have much education, don't have much training—and I want to change that."

The big picture: Sanders called for the "transformation of police departments" that pares back the responsibilities of officers as it relates to dealing with mental health or addiction issues.

  • Sanders said the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police officers "is part of a very, very long pattern" which was even more common in the past, but has gotten more attention recently because of groups like Black Lives Matter and the ACLU.
  • "So this has gone on for decades, and I think the major transformation that's coming now is a result of cell phones and video cameras. People are seeing what's actually happening, which was not the case decades ago. But this has gone on, and it's got to end. It has absolutely got to end."

Sanders said the issue of police brutality needs to be addressed in "a very, very aggressive way, pointing to a set of proposals he sent to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week that seeks to establish independent police conduct review boards for departments and lower the standard for prosecuting officers.

  • "We've got to start investing in education and jobs, not more jails, not more incarceration, and we have to hold every police officer in this country accountable for what he or she does. And when those police officers break the law and commit acts of murder or violence, they have got to be held accountable."
  • "I think we want to redefine what police departments do, give them the support they need to make their jobs better defined. So I do believe that we need well-trained, well-educated, and well-paid professionals in police departments."
  • "Anyone who thinks that we should abolish all police departments in America, I don't agree."
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