With U.S. midterm elections approaching, Democrats score bipartisan win on public safety bills

The U.S. Capitol Building is lit at sunset in Washington
The U.S. Capitol Building is lit at sunset in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

WASHINGTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a series of bipartisan policing and public safety bills, as Democrats worked to burnish their crime-fighting credentials before the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

The "Invest to Protect Act" aims to beef up federal funding for community policing activities in smaller jurisdictions, which often lack the money for officer body cameras and "de-escalation" training aimed at avoiding death or injury during law enforcement activities.

"Support for investing in law enforcement couldn't have been clearer," Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer, who sponsored the bill, told Reuters.

He said that the strong bipartisan vote could bode well for future police reform efforts.

A trio of related bills that also passed on Thursday would help smaller police departments attract and retain officers, support local governments in developing mental health programs to lower crime rates and create grants for training to solve gun murders.

The bills have long been a priority for moderate Democrats, who face tough re-election campaigns in November as Republican opponents accuse them of wanting to "defund the police."

In April, the pollster Gallup found concern over crime was at its highest level since 2016, with 53% of Americans saying they worried a great deal about it.

A handful of progressives opposed Gottheimer's bill, saying it would not satisfy Democratic voters who are concerned about police impunity and swollen law enforcement budgets.

The party's progressive and moderate wings had mostly resolved differences on the Invest to Protect Act on Wednesday, and leadership immediately called for a next-day vote.

On Thursday, the bill passed on an overwhelming 360-64 vote.

A slightly different version of Gottheimer's bill passed the Senate in early August. The two chambers will have to reconcile their differences before it can be sent to President Joe Biden for signing into law.

Congressional Democrats have yet to find a way to enact legislation making it easier to hold police departments and their officers accountable for the use of excessive force, especially against minorities.

"It doesn't take away the call for real accountability. This is not a substitute for that in any way," Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said of the legislation being debated on Thursday.

Reporting by Moira Warburton and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell

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