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U.S. Attorney Lelling Says Calls To Defund Police Are 'Ridiculous'

BOSTON (CBS) – The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said he's "alarmed" by a movement across the nation to defund police departments, following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

At a news conference Tuesday announcing the arrests of several accused members of a violent Boston gang, Lelling said cities and towns shouldn't slash police budgets as a way to reform departments.

"I'm not opposed to police reform, if it's intelligently done, I'm guessing no one up here is opposed to it. But these calls to literally defund urban policing, I think are frankly ridiculous," he told reporters.

"There's a reason why crime rates are at historic lows in our cities nationwide,"Lelling said. "The way you maintain that level of peace and safety on the streets is you fund your police departments, you don't defund them."

It was the second day in a row Lelling praised local police officers. At a news conference Monday announcing charges of cyberstalking against six former eBay employees, Lelling gave credit to Natick Police for their help in the investigation.

"Our local police departments are not optional. They are in fact crucial to maintaining a safe and free society," he said Monday.

He issued similar praise for Boston Police Tuesday for their role in bringing charges to 32 members of a Boston-based gang.

"This is today's reminder that police officers actually spend their time putting themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe, and that a well-funded police department is not somehow optional for a free and safe society," Lelling said.

The Black Lives Matter movement has increased calls for police reform nationwide, after George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A majority of the Minneapolis City Council promised to dismantle the 800-member police department and replace it with a new system of public safety.

Last Friday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh reallocated 20-percent of the police overtime budget to social and community programs.

"I think if you want to add funding to other types of programming that help the community, that's a great idea. Mental health programming, drug addiction programming, programming for kids who are at risk, programming that's funneled through the juvenile courts in the state to support families in crisis - all of that is a fantastic idea," Lelling said.

"Taking money away from police departments because of, sort of a vague, unanalyzed accusation that all police departments are systemically racist, I think is misguided. "

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross was with Lelling at Tuesday's news conference.

"Today the buck stops here. Today in the federal system, they will be held accountable. Today we send a message to the people of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - we have your back," Gross said. "Even in a time of anti-police sentiment. We will do our jobs."

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