A bill reintroduced to the House of Representatives on May 5 aims to increase federal funding for small police departments across the country to support mental health care, training and recruitment initiatives.
The bipartisan Invest to Protect Act — spearheaded by Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), former Sheriff/Representative John Rutherford (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus/Representative Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and retired NYPD Detective/Representative Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) — would provide up to $50 million annually for the next five years to departments with fewer than 200 officers for a variety of needs, including officer safety, de-escalation and domestic violence response training.
“Last year, this bipartisan legislation passed the House with more than 300 votes, including 153 Republicans,” Gottheimer said at a press conference reintroducing the bill. “And, now, we have the support from both sides of the aisle and both sides of Congress to get it signed into law.”
“You must invest, not defund. You can have both justice and public safety. You don’t have to pick between one or the other.”
According to Gottheimer, more than 94% of police departments in the country have fewer than 100 officers and therefore would qualify for funding.
Gottheimer said the legislation would benefit the majority of departments in New Jersey, which is currently experiencing a surge in auto theft, hate crimes and pandemic-related crimes.
In a press release, Gottheimer’s office cited data showing that deadly shootings in New Jersey are up 30% since the pandemic began, and in the last year, auto thefts have spiked by 50%. Hate crimes are also up 12% in the state, according to the FBI.
“I’ll tell you this: You won’t make our communities safer by slashing budgets and defunding departments,” Gottheimer said in a statement.
“You must invest, not defund. You can have both justice and public safety. You don’t have to pick between one or the other,” he continued. “Today’s bipartisan legislation will help ensure we have both, and protect our communities and officers.”
Gottheimer added that the bill could also help agencies combat the influx of police resignations and retirements, as well as address the growing concern of post-traumatic stress and burnout among police officers, by funding a variety of targeted initiatives.
It’s no surprise that police departments are struggling to recruit new officers and maintain staffing levels in recent years. Police departments grappled with a 22% increase in resignations and around 20% more retirements in 2022 compared to 2019, along with a reduction in applicants to police academies.
In addition, a recent study found that the rate of PTSD among police officers increased 30% from January 2020 to April 2021.
According to Gottheimer, the bill is a first step in the right direction. “Now, does the bill cover everything? No, of course not,” he said. “Are these critical steps to make much needed investment in our local police and our local communities? Yes, absolutely.”
The bill is supported by a number of law enforcement organizations, including the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.
“Over the last few years, law enforcement officers have faced many challenges and threats to their well-being that have created a dangerous environment for those sworn to protect the public,” National Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes said in a statement supporting the legislation.
“These challenges have ranged from violence against officers, an increase in violent rhetoric against them, lagging technology, recruitment and retention issues, and mental health concerns,” he continued. “Smaller municipalities are experiencing increased strain on the men and women in blue. We believe that the Invest to Protect Act can help our nation’s smaller agencies and departments combat these issues that plague law enforcement officers in smaller municipalities and help these same smaller agencies recruit new officers and retain experienced personnel.”
The bill was also reintroduced in the Senate by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).