AP FACT CHECK: Trump team distortions on Biden and police

HOPE YEN

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's campaign team is misrepresenting Democratic rival Joe Biden's stance on improving police practices following George Floyd's death.

In ads and emails this week, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee assert that Biden would “defund the police.” That's not Biden's position. The former vice president has repeatedly made clear he would boost money for social services and condition federal dollars on police adhering to standards of decency.

Meanwhile, Biden left out some context when he asserted that Trump had ordered the government to slow down coronavirus testing.

A look at some of the claims from the campaign:

TRUMP on BIDEN

TRUMP campaign ad, playing out a scenario where a person needing help calls the police during a Biden presidency and gets a voice recording: “You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry but no one is here to take your call.” The ad closes with the message: “You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America.”

THE FACTS: Biden has not joined the call of protesters who demanded “defund the police” after Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. Biden has proposed more money for police, conditioned on improvements in their practices.

“I don’t support defunding the police,“ Biden said last month in a CBS interview. But he said he would support tying federal aid to police based on whether “they meet certain basic standards of decency, honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, everybody in the community.”

Biden added in remarks Wednesday to reporters: "We don’t have to defund the police departments, we have to make sure they meet minimum basic standards of decency.”

Biden’s criminal justice agenda, released long before he became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, proposes more federal money for “training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure that departments are racially and ethnically reflective of the populations they serve.

Specifically, he calls for a $300 million infusion into federal community policing grant programs.

That adds up to more money for police, not defunding law enforcement.

Biden also wants the federal government to spend more on education, social services and struggling areas of cities and rural America, to address the root causes of crime.

Democrats, meanwhile, have pointed to Trump’s repeated proposals in the administration’s budget to cut community policing and mediation programs at the Justice Department. Congressional Republicans say the program can be effectively merged with other divisions, but Democrats have repeatedly blocked the effort. The program has been used to help provide federal oversight of local police departments.

Despite proposed cuts, Attorney General William Barr last month said the department would use the COPS program funding to hire over 2,700 police officers at nearly 600 departments across the country.

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REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE email: “In the wake of rioting, looting, and tragic murders ripping apart communities across the country, Joe Biden said ‘Yes, absolutely’ he wants to defund the police.” — email Wednesday from Steve Guest, RNC’s rapid response director.

THE FACTS: That’s misleading, a selective use of Biden's words on the subject.

The email links to an excerpted video of Biden’s conversation with liberal activist Ady Barkan, who endorsed Biden on Wednesday after supporting Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont during the Democratic primaries. A full recording of that conversation provided by the Biden campaign to The Associated Press shows he once again declined to support defunding police.

Barkan raises the issue of police reform and asks whether Biden would funnel money into social services, mental health counseling and affordable housing to help reduce civilian interactions with police.

Biden responds that he is calling for more money for mental health providers but “that’s not the same as getting rid of or defunding all the police” and that both approaches are needed, including additional dollars for community police.

Asked again by Barkan, “so we agree that we can redirect some of the funding,” Biden then answers “absolutely yes.”

Biden then gives the caveat that he means “not just redirect” federal money potentially but “condition” it on police improvements.

“If they don’t eliminate chokeholds, they don’t get (federal) grants, if they don’t do the following, they don’t get any help,” Biden replied.

“The vast majority of all police departments are funded by the locality, funded by the municipality, funded by the state," he added. “It’s only the federal government comes in on top of that, and so it says you want help, you have to do the following reforms,.”

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BIDEN on TRUMP

BIDEN: “President Trump claimed to the American people that he was a wartime leader, but instead of taking responsibility, Trump has waved a white flag, revealing that he ordered the slowing of testing and having his administration tell Americans that they simply need to ‘live with it.’’ — statement Wednesday marking the rise in U.S. coronavirus infections to more than 3 million.

THE FACTS: To be clear, the government did not slow testing on the orders of the president.

Trump at first denied he was joking when he told a Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally on June 20 that he said “to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please’” because “they test and they test.” Days later he said he didn’t really mean it.

In any event, a succession of his public health officials testified to Congress that the president never asked them to slow testing and that they were doing all they could to increase it. But testing remains markedly insufficient.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.

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