WASHINGTON (AP) — Mayors, police chiefs and other local officials were invited to the White House on Friday to share with President Joe Biden how they are spending money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on policing and public safety programs.
In turn, during an afternoon event in the Rose Garden, Biden will highlight some of these efforts and urge cities to spend even more of their coronavirus relief money on public safety, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the president’s plans on the condition of anonymity under terms insisted upon by the White House.
Biden will encourage communities to spend more on public safety and crime prevention before the summer months, which typically bring a spike in violent crime.
The Democratic president has been under pressure from Republicans and others to bring down violent crime across the country, one issue among many that could complicate his party’s chances of retaining control of Congress in the November midterm elections.
Biden has announced a strategy to combat gun crimes, including steps to crack down on rogue gun dealers and slow the spread of untraceable ghost guns, privately made firearms without serial numbers.
Biden’s call for increased spending on public safety comes as the Treasury Department prepares to release the second round of coronavirus relief funding for state and local governments.
Among the officials meeting with Biden are the mayors and police chiefs of Detroit; Houston; Kansas City, Missouri; and Tampa, Florida. The mayors of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Toledo, Ohio, will also attend, as will officials from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Mercer County, Pennsylvania.
Some officials will discuss how they used the federal funding — which Republicans in Congress did not support — to do such things as hire new police officers, buy body cameras and new police and fire vehicles, pay overtime and improve mental health and domestic violence response, according to a fact sheet the White House released Friday.
The 2021 relief package included $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments, money that could go to police departments. Following the killings of several Black Americans by law enforcement officials, some Democrats and civil rights activists have urged cutting police budgets. Republican lawmakers have criticized Biden amid rising violent crime, even though the president has said he believes the police need the money.
“The answer is not to defund the police,” Biden said in his State of the Union address in March. “It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them.”
FBI records released last September suggest that Biden inherited a violent crime problem. In 2020, the year before Biden took office, homicides rose nearly 30% over the previous year, the largest one-year jump documented by the FBI. There were 21,570 killings, the highest since the early 1990s when homicides stayed above 23,000 a year.
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