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Shaffer gets police endorsement as crime debate surfaces in 17th Congressional District race

Democrat Chris Deluzio, left, and Republican Jeremy Shaffer, right.
Courtesy of the candidates' campaigns
Democrat Chris Deluzio, left, and Republican Jeremy Shaffer, right.

Republican Congressional candidate Jeremy Shaffer unveiled support from a handful of local police unions Wednesday while attacking Democrat Chris Deluizo about crime concerns that Republicans have deployed in races nationwide.

Rich Ruffalo, the recording secretary for Pittsburgh’s police union, bestowed the endorsement on behalf of Pittsburgh FOP Lodge 1 as well as Lodge 91, which represents police in other parts of Allegheny County, and Beaver County Lodge 4. He hailed Shaffer’s “commitment to law enforcement,” and he said the unions “support your vision to promote safety, health [and] rank-and-file law-enforcement officers.”

“We need to fully fund our police. We need to support them,” said Shaffer after receiving the endorsement. Citing a surge in shootings that included a triple homicide last weekend on Pittsburgh’s North Side, Shaffer said he was “deeply concerned about the direction of our country and the direction of our local communities. We absolutely need to support our police, to be there with them so they can keep us safe.”

Republicans have seized on crime in races across the country — perhaps nowhere more completely than in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race — as polls suggest that three-quarters of Americans regard it as a major issue. Other data suggests that when asked which party they think would do the best job addressing the issue, voters are more likely to choose Republicans.

Shaffer leaned into that perception after the endorsement, telling reporters that Deluzio “has aligned himself with the extreme left wing of the Democrat Party. … The people that he has clearly aligned himself with, the policies that they support, are directly in contradiction to supporting our police.”

Shaffer noted that Deluzio was scheduled to hold a fundraiser in the Philadelphia area attended by Congresswoman Primila Jayapal, one of the progressive leaders in the House and among those who have called for shifting resources from policing to social services.

Those remarks echoed attacks on Deluzio lodged in ads funded by outside spending groups including the Congressional Leadership Fund. Among other things, the spots have accused Deluzio of having “bankrolled” state Rep. Summer Lee, one of the most vocal supporters of criminal justice reform in Harrisburg.

In fact, Deluzio’s contributions have been decidedly modest: In 2020 he donated a total of just $115 to Lee and Unite PAC, a committee she helped found that supports other progressive candidates.

And in a statement that referred to his record in the U.S. Navy, Deluzio said, “Jeremy Shaffer is lying. I do not support defunding police. I’ve actually worn a uniform and carried a gun in a dangerous place to keep Americans safe. I don’t need a lecture from corporate executive Jeremy Shaffer about what it’s like to put yourself at risk to protect others, just like cops and firefighters do every day.”

The debate about “defunding police” is complicated by confusion about whether the phrase refers to the outright abolition of police or redirection of some portion of the public-safety budget to social services in hopes of avoiding the dire circumstances that make criminal behavior more likely.

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But there has generally been bipartisan support for police funding in Washington. The Democrats’ 2021 American Rescue Plan coronavirus aid package, for example, included $10 billion for public safety. Similarly, in recent years there also has been at least some bipartisan support for easing criminal penalties: In 2018, the Trump Administration signed a bipartisan criminal-justice reform bill to reduce the federal prison population,

The law-enforcement officials who endorsed Shaffer cited other issues that were important to them, such as undoing an offset to Social Security benefits for police and other government workers who receive pensions. They also worried that some Democrat-led efforts at the state and local level — to ease bail requirements, for example — created a too-permissive atmosphere.

“A lot of these big cities are letting these people out,” said retired Edgeworth Police Chief John English. “Criminals are saying, ‘I can keep doing this.’ Nobody is stopping them.”

And they voiced concerns that after years of controversy involving police misconduct, the community no longer respected law-enforcement as it once did.

“Nobody hates a bad cop worse than a good cop,” said Beaver County Sheriff Tony Guy. But, he said “we need to have a different mindset amongst the public."

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.