NEW ORLEANS — At a conference in New Orleans for police leaders, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr pushed back against calls for police reform and budget cuts, calling the Department of Justice under the Trump administration a "partner" for law enforcement agencies working to uphold the law.
During his roughly 35-minute speech to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Barr continued circling back to the idea that media outlets and politicians were treating police unfairly and said that police reform should not be prioritized over reforming other parts of the judicial system or social services designed to eliminate the root causes of crime.
"Today, the media characterizes reform...as it relates to reforming the police, as if police are the biggest problem we face in public safety," Barr said.
Instead, he pointed to elected positions such as district attorneys or judges, saying that "it is the rest of the system that often falls down."
"The criminal justice system is a process and is only as strong as its weakest link," Barr said.
Citing stagnation in police budgets around the country in recent years, Barr said money should be diverted to them instead of away.
"We've been pouring money into social programs for many decades. Frankly, they haven't been very successful," he said. "The foundation has to be safety."
But research indicates that programs aimed at providing support for economically disadvantaged people can reduce overall crime rates.
A 2008 Harvard study of welfare benefits found that crime rates rose as those benefits ran out. Similar research has backed up this theory in the U.S. and other countries.
In recent months, killings in police custody -- including high-profile cases like the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis -- have led to activists calling for a reduction in spending on police under a broad call to "defund the police."
The Attorney General pointed to several instances of violence at protests against police brutality as a reason for more police funding rather than less.
"Those attacking police are not exercising their first amendment rights. They're criminals and they have to be dealt with accordingly," he said.
To do that, law enforcement agencies need more support, according to Barr.
"The starting point for moving forward is the need for police to be adequately supported and funded," Barr said. "We need to invest more in police and public safety."
Barr shrugged off the idea that violence by police -- often against black or brown people -- is a systemic issue, instead urging departments to create "systems of accountability that are fair to our officers" acting in the moment, while also having the teeth to weed out "bad actors" involved in policing.
"Are there instances of excessive force? Of course there are instances of excessive force, we're dealing with human beings," Barr told the group of high-ranking police officials. "But we also have to be honest that cases of cold-blooded excessive force are rare and becoming more rare."
Echoing President Donald Trump's messaging about policing, Barr said "law and order" were the foundations for social change. He said that redistributing money from police departments to social systems -- referencing in broad strokes programs that aid low-income households, young people and the unemployed -- would lead to more crime in large cities.
"All the social programs in the world will not amount to a sea of beans if there is carnage," he said.