A closer look at their policies and rhetoric shows the candidates are taking different approaches.
Biden has carved out a careful balance so as not to alienate his progressive or moderate base. His campaign has stated that “he hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change” and that he also “supports the urgent need for reform.”
While the former vice president has said that “most cops are good,” he has stated that federal funding for law enforcement should be “based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.”
Biden also promised to address “systemic racism with long overdue and concrete changes.” On his campaign website, he’s pledged to expand the power of the Justice Department (DOJ) to address systemic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors’ offices, with methods such as “pattern-or-practice investigations,” as well as consent decrees to address circumstances of “systemic police misconduct.”
He also says he would establish a new, independent task force on prosecutorial discretion outside of the DOJ that will make recommendations on handling discrimination.
According to his campaign website, Biden would create a new $20 billion competitive grant program that would “spur states to shift from incarceration to prevention.” Under this program, states that want to receive this funding must “eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes,” among other steps.
In June, Biden called for legislation to ban chokeholds and for an end to the transfer of military weapons to police departments.
Trump’s position toward policing, meanwhile, has been one of “law and order” and of support for officers.
While he hasn’t pushed for any major changes to policing systems or funding, he did say the vast majority of officers are “great men and women” who deserve respect, while signing an executive order on police reform in June.
“I strongly oppose” the “radical” effort to dismantle and disband police forces, Trump said at the time.
The order has three main components: more certification and credential requirements for officers, information sharing on officials who have been subject to excessive use of force complaints, and co-responder programs that will send health professionals alongside officers during certain situations.
A senior White House official told reporters that the package would create a database to track officers who have multiple instances of misconduct and would also use federal grants to incentivize departments to meet certain standards.
The executive order also barred the use of chokeholds by state or local law enforcement agencies.
The president also has explicitly denounced some of the current rhetoric surrounding law enforcement, describing it as an “anti-cop crusade.”
During a previous roundtable event where Americans shared stories about how they and their families have been helped by law enforcement, Trump said his administration’s stance is one of “pro-safety, pro-police, and anti-crime.”
Trump said at the roundtable that “radical politicians” who want to defund and abolish the police have “defamed our law enforcement heroes as ‘the enemy,’” and noted that efforts pushing to defund and abolish law enforcement appear to be happening in “many, many Democrat-run areas.”
Under the Trump administration’s “Operation Legend” program, federal agents and resources have been sent to inner cities to tackle violent crime and to restore public safety. The federal initiative has so far led to more than 2,000 arrests, including nearly 150 for homicide, since its start in July.
Law Enforcement Stance
The law enforcement community has largely expressed support for Trump, with major police unions and organizations endorsing the president.
Early last month, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the U.S.’s biggest police union, unanimously endorsed Trump, commending him for his calls for law and order. The FOP has more than 355,000 members in 2,100 lodges.
“Public safety will undoubtedly be a main focus for voters in this year’s election,” FOP President Patrick Yoes said in a Sept. 4 statement.
“Look at what the national discourse has focused on for the last six months. President Trump has shown time after time that he supports our law enforcement officers and understands the issues our members face every day.”
The National Association of Police Organizations, a police lobbying group that represents some 241,000 members, also formally endorsed Trump for his “steadfast and very public support for our men and women on the front lines.”
The group previously endorsed Barack Obama for president in both 2008 and 2012; Biden was Obama’s running mate for both elections.
Trump has also won the endorsement of the largest union representing New York City Police Department officers, as well as New Jersey’s largest police union.
The Southern States Police Benevolent Association Inc., a group of more than 60,000 officers employed by federal, state, county, and municipal governments, endorsed Trump in September. It was the association’s first presidential endorsement in over 20 years.
“In these times when many are attacking the law enforcement profession, it is imperative that law enforcement officers know that they are not on their own as they face the dangers of their job,” Chris Skinner, the association’s president, said in a statement.
“We believe that President Trump and Vice President Pence have demonstrated that they understand and appreciate the honor and sacrifice of serving as a law enforcement officer.”
While virtually all major police unions and groups have endorsed Trump, Biden has gained the support of more than 175 current and former law enforcement officials who have criticized Trump’s handling of months of civil unrest across the country since the death of George Floyd.
Jack Phillips and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.