Barr defends necessity of police force in US, but says it must have ‘checks in place’

AG Barr says police reform needs to strike the ‘right balance’

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Attorney General William Barr hold a press conference after meeting South Carolina church and law enforcement officials.

Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday that police reform must strike the "right balance" between providing security and preventing the possibility of abuse.

At a press conference in South Carolina to mark his visit with religious leaders, community members and law enforcement personnel, Barr acknowledged that police need to be checked.

"We need a police force," Barr said in Columbia, S.C. "We need these institutions to provide peace and security in society to allow our lives to flourish. At the same time whenever you have that kind of institution, you have the possibility of abuse. And so you have to put reins and checks in place to make sure that these institutions that are designed to protect the community don't themselves become oppressive. And it's a question of striking the right balance."

Barr made the remarks as protesters continue to demand racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's death and Black Lives Matters activists call for police departments to be defunded. The attorney general was joined by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who authored police reform legislation that failed to gain bipartisan support in the Senate, though Scott remains optimistic about striking a deal with Democrats.

Both Barr and Scott spoke out against defunding the police. Scott argued police need more resources if they want to have social workers and mental health professionals as co-responders to handle drug abuse, homelessness and mental breakdown police calls. Barr said police shouldn't be demonized.

"We need to support the police so they're out there protecting the community," Barr said. "But by the same time, we have to be sure that there aren't these abuses and it's striking a balance. It's not defunding the police or doing away with the police or demonizing the police, nor is it giving short shrift to the legitimate concerns that are out there about police abuses and overreach. So I think we have to strike a balance here."

Trump already signed an executive order on policing to rebuild trust with law enforcement. The order aims to ban chokeholds except when an officer's life is in danger, better track excessive use of force complaints, and work with social workers and mental health officials to develop "co-responder" programs.

The House passed its police reform legislation — named after Floyd – that would ban chokeholds, end no-knock warrants in drug cases, reform qualified immunity and create a national database to track police misconduct.

Scott's bill didn't go as far and Democrats blocked it from coming to a vote in the Senate. Since then, Scott said he's been in talks with Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus on finding a compromise.

"Because right now we're sitting at zero and that speaks poorly to the American people, specifically to communities of color who have been challenged by these situations for decades," Scott said.

At the press conference, Scott declined to comment on Trump's recent tweet that NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace should apologize for the highly publicized noose investigation, which Trump called a "hoax," and said NASCAR's decision to ban the Confederate flag triggered poor ratings.

"Fortunately, I don't pay a lot of attention to Twitter. I took it off my phone,” Scott said.

Fox News' Jake Gibson contributed to this report.

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