As the November general election draws nearer, activists calling to defund the police are trying to influence local races.

In Bristol Township, a progressive activist group is using different language. But the result would be the same.

Founded in May 2020, Lower Bucks for Change has several goals. While not explicitly calling to ‘defund the police’ its website does have the goal to “reduce our reliance on policing.” The website also calls to “divert funds from policing to social services.”

A screenshot from the Lower Bucks for Change website.

In a piece LevittownNow published in mid-August, activists made their goals clearer. Lower Bucks for Change co-founder Vincent Montoya said it was “clear” Bristol Township Council was “not allocating the money correctly.”

“If you took less than 15 percent of the police budget, every student could meet with a social worker each month.”

The group also plans to attend each council meeting through December to influence council’s budget vote. So far, it has held to this plan.

At the most recent council meeting on September 17, members of the group advocated for Bristol Township to prohibit local police from cooperating with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Lower Bucks for Change activists campaign for Democratic state House candidate Lauren Lareau. Photo via Lower Bucks for Change Facebook page.

Township Manager Randee Elton responded saying she investigated the possibility of passing such a resolution. Elton stated she was confident it would restrict federal grants for the township.

The group has endorsed several local candidates in races for the state House.

Recently Lower Bucks for Change activists have started campaigning for candidate Lauren Lareau. A Democrat running in the 142nd district, she is trying to unseat incumbent Republican State Rep. Frank Farry.

Lareau’s campaign website also features the Lower Bucks for Change endorsement.

In a statement to WBCB 1490, Lareau stated she supports criminal justice reform, not defunding the police.

“As the granddaughter of a police officer from Philadelphia, I support initiatives that create safer communities based on the needs of those communities. Instead of defunding the police, we need compassion for the police by recognizing that we’re unrealistically asking them to do too many jobs: peacekeeper, medical personnel, mental health expert, addiction specialist, and social worker.”

But Rep. Farry, who also serves as Middletown-Langhorne Fire Chief, was not convinced. He said Lareau was “being very crafty in her words.”

“She’s backed by organizations that promote defunding the police and are very open about it,” said Farry. “You can’t hitch your wagon to some of these organizations and tell them one thing and then tell the public something else. You start taking money away from law enforcement, obviously that compromises the safety of our community.”

Farry then pointed to legislation the state House and Senate unanimously sent to Governor Wolf as steps lawmakers have already taken. Signed into law, House bills 1841 and 1910 include police hiring reforms and officer training reforms respectively.

“You start taking money away from law enforcement, obviously that compromises the safety of our community,”

Meantime, other local Democrats including State Rep. Tina Davis (D-141) and candidate Harold Hayes have more clearly separated themselves from activists calling to defund the police.

Davis touted her endorsement from the Bucks County Fraternal Order of Police. She also stated she supported giving more resources to officers.

“I do not support defunding the police,” said Davis, “but rather support giving the police the resources to address their resident’s mental illness and addiction issues.”

Hayes also rejected the movement.

“We are a family of first responders who know personal tragedy. My Uncle was a Philadelphia Police Officer killed in the line of duty. Therefore, I do not support the defunding of our law enforcement. I feel it would only serve to make our community and our first responders less safe, including Fire and EMS, who rely on having law enforcement on the scene with them.”

Farry added whether it was called “diverting funds” or having social workers fill in for officers, defunding police would be on the ballot in some races.

“The public is going to have a choice on November 3rd. Support a candidate that can go to Harrisburg and try to make these decisions and advocate for that kind of policy, or people that stand up for public safety and when something is wrong, recognize it’s wrong and try to fix it, but on the same note make sure our families are safe here in Bucks County.”