While courting an anti-police group’s endorsement in 2018, Senate hopeful John Fetterman said he opposed "tough on crime" policies and was "very excited" for the reforms proposed by a Philadelphia district attorney now facing impeachment over a massive spike in violent crime in the city.
Fetterman laid out his views of a "progressive agenda" in a questionnaire for Reclaim Philadelphia, a left-wing activist group that claims Philadelphia’s police budget is derived from money "stolen from communities." Fetterman, who was seeking an endorsement in the race for lieutenant governor, told the organization he would use the office "as a bully pulpit for the larger issue of criminal justice reform."
"There is a real opportunity to build a statewide platform that elevates and exposes the damage created by the school-to-prison pipeline, the prison industrial complex, and ‘tough on crime’ policies like ‘Stop and Frisk’ and cash bail," said Fetterman, who expressed support for sanctuary cities and Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner, one of the left-wing prosecutors backed by Democratic billionaire donor George Soros.
Fetterman’s campaign ignored questions about his current views of Krasner and cash bail, but a spokesman said Fetterman supported police as mayor of Braddock, Pa.
"John has worked hand-in-hand with local police, so he knows the challenges they face and will support them with the funding they need," said campaign spokesman Joe Calvello.
Fetterman’s past embrace of progressive criminal justice reform could hurt his chances as crime spikes across the country. Republicans have highlighted Fetterman’s positions on the issue as well as his tenure on the Board of Pardons in a series of blistering ads aimed at portraying the Democrat as soft on crime. A GOP group affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has aired ads highlighting the Washington Free Beacon’s report that Fetterman cast the lone vote to free a man serving a life sentence for the first degree murder of a man he killed for money to buy heroin.
Republicans have also emphasized Fetterman’s endorsement of Krasner, who faces impeachment in the Pennsylvania legislature for "dereliction of duty" after violent crime skyrocketed in the city. Murders in Philadelphia have skyrocketed from 353 when Krasner took over in 2018 to 562 last year.
The GOP onslaught appears to have narrowed Fetterman’s lead over Republican Mehmet Oz. Fetterman has aired a series of ads defending his record on crime. He has also flipped his support for universal drug legalization, a reversal from his comments in 2016 that he supports "decriminalizing across the board."
Current and former law enforcement officials have also criticized Fetterman’s progressive views. Thirteen Pennsylvania sheriffs opposed Fetterman in July over his criminal justice positions, saying his support for the release of up to one-third of state inmates and his backing of Krasner would "add to already rising crime rates in Pennsylvania, particularly in Philadelphia."
Fetterman’s call to end "tough on crime" policies like cash bail are "a huge mistake," according to James Gagliano, a retired FBI supervisory special agent who serves as mayor of Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y.
"For those of us who study crime trends, we immediately sensed the causal relationship between releasing criminal recidivists and the glaring uptick in crime—especially violent crimes," Gagliano told the Free Beacon.
Another "tough on crime" policy Fetterman opposes—"Stop and Frisk"—has gained renewed attention in Philadelphia amid surging gun crime in the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia city council president Darrell Clarke said this summer that there needs to be a "conversation" about the policing tactic, in which police officers question people they suspect have committed or are about to commit a crime.
"At the end of the day there are a lot of citizens on the streets of Philadelphia that talk about, ‘When are we going to look at stop and frisk in a constitutionally enacted way?'" said Clarke.
Fetterman’s opposition to the police use of "Stop and Frisk" appears at odds with his use of a similar tactic as mayor of Braddock in 2013. Fetterman chased down and pulled a shotgun on an unarmed black jogger he falsely thought had fired a gun near his home. Fetterman has declined to apologize for the incident.
While Fetterman says he opposes the movement to defund police, he has sought the support of several activists that support the cause. In 2020, Reclaim Philadelphia urged supporters to pressure Philadelphia mayor James Kenney (D.) to pull $120 million in funding for the police department, claiming the money "has been stolen from communities and put towards policing." In June 2021, Reclaim Philadelphia organized a sit-in at Kenney’s office to urge cuts to the police budget.
The organization has not officially endorsed Fetterman, but the group holds voter canvassing events for the Democrat in Philadelphia each weekend.
Fetterman campaigned on the anniversary of 9/11 with abortion activists who support the defund movement. Fetterman also campaigned last month with three Philadelphia city council members who back the movement. Fetterman’s appointee as secretary of the Board of Pardons has called to "disarm the police" and calls cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal a "friend," the Free Beacon reported.
Fetterman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.