Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman on Tuesday said it was “always absurd” to float the idea of defunding the police and that he “never believed” in it.
“From my own experience I’d say, anytime you have fewer police, you’re going to have more crime,” Fetterman said in an interview with Semafor. “I just feel that police are always going to be a critical part of the conversation, and they are critical to being successful. They’re the most important tool to make the street safer.”
Democrats have largely distanced themselves from calls to “defund the police,” which echoed across the nation after the death of George Floyd in 2020 and led some cities to divert police funding to other resources, a decision many of them later reversed.
Republicans have used the slogan to pummel Democrats as anti-police and pro-crime, and President Biden has pushed back at the idea. In his State of the Union speech this year, Biden said that the U.S. should “fund the police.”
Fetterman, who served as the mayor of Braddock from 2006 to 2019, has nine tattoos on his right forearm that each indicate a date when someone died violently in his Pennsylvania town.
Fetterman told Semafor that when he was mayor, he facilitated a good relationship with the police, recognizing that was a part of the solution to reducing crime along with community resources.
“The most effective recipe is a police department that understands that they have to do what they need to do in terms of making sure things be safer, but not at the expense of the community feeling that they’re over-policed,” he said. “I think it’s critical in any conversation to really begin to beat back the crime.”
The FBI’s latest report on violent crime found it fell 1 percent in 2021 compared to 2020.
But homicides rose 4.3 percent from 2020, which was a year that saw a rise of nearly 30 percent from 2019 levels.
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With Republicans seizing on high rates of crime this election cycle and voters agreeing it’s a major issue, some Democratic candidates are actively distancing themselves from criticizing the police and progressive policies like releasing offenders.
Fetterman, who is running in a tight race for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat against Republican Mehmet Oz, has been criticized for a 2013 incident when he chased down a Black jogger and pulled a shotgun on the person because he wrongly believed the individual had been involved in a shooting.
He told Semaform that it was a “split-second decision as the chief law enforcement official to act in the defense of public safety,” but it has given him a better understanding of how police have to make similar, fast decisions.
The Democratic candidate told Semafor he believes getting firearms off the streets is the most effective way to reduce crime, noting Republicans talk up reducing crime but don’t push for stricter gun control laws.
“How can you be serious about addressing crime but not doing anything to pass tighter gun reform laws?” he asked. “I don’t understand how anyone can make that kind of argument.”