President Biden said on Wednesday states could draw from $350 billion in federal stimulus money to support police departments and vowed to crack down on gun dealers who fail background checks, as the White House seeks to combat an alarming rise in murders. rates in American cities.
Mr. Biden’s speech made clear he intended to tackle crime prevention by investing in the police rather than funding it — delving into a national debate about whether the government should give police departments more resources, or spend money on mental health and other social resources. services instead.
The president tried to appeal to both sides on Wednesday, saying from the White House that “this is not the time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities.”
Under Biden’s new plan, state and local governments will be allowed to use $350 billion in coronavirus relief money earmarked for programs such as hiring police officers to pre-pandemic levels, paying overtime for community policing and supporting community violence groups. . City governments struggle with high crime They will be able to go further, and hire more officers than they did before the pandemic.
The money isn’t new spending, but the administration is encouraging states for the first time to use the money to expand police and crime prevention efforts.
The money could also be used for youth summer jobs and organizations that aim to intervene with at-risk youth before they commit violence, referring to criminal justice advocates who have called on political leaders to address societal factors that lead to crime.
In Wednesday’s speech, Mr. Biden sought frankness Criticism from Republicans Who says he’s kind to crime? But he has also tried to connect the two sides of his party: centrist Democrats who are concerned about rising crime in cities and progressives who are pushing for systemic changes in police departments that have long been accused of racial discrimination.
Biden also said he was directing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to revoke the licenses of gun dealers “the first time they violated federal law” by not conducting background checks.
Previously, sellers often received repeated warnings before their licenses were withdrawn. In some cases, ATF . charged To overrule their inspectors’ recommendations and allow vendors to keep their licenses.
Mr. Biden, who appeared next to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland: “These merchants of death are breaking the law for profit.” They sell weapons that kill innocents. This is a mistake. this is unacceptable “.
Mr. Biden used the moment to call on Congress to pass legislative measures that would close loopholes in background checks, restrict offensive weapons and remove gun manufacturers’ immunity from lawsuits.
“People, this shouldn’t be a red or blue issue,” Biden said. It is an American issue. We do not change the constitution. We impose it.”
Criminal justice experts and law enforcement officials said the federal government is limited in the extent to which it can fight crime in American cities, because local governments and police departments bear the primary responsibility.
But they said supporting states with additional money and federal law enforcement to target illegal gun sales is crucial to reducing crime.
It will help,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Executive Police Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank. But he warned that “if people are looking for a magic bullet for violent crime, it won’t come from the federal government.”
The Biden administration also announced this week that the Department of Justice would launch five “offensive forces” to combat arms smuggling in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco area and Washington, DC.
Jim Pascoe, executive director of the Fraternal National Police, said the focus on arms smuggling was a “tried and true strategy.”
“The key is to have the resources to maintain them over time,” said Mr. Pascoe. “To have a lasting impact, you must always make an effort.”
Overall crime numbers remained low during the coronavirus pandemic, even though homicides rose in nearly every American city in 2020. In Chicago and many other cities, last year was the worst year for homicide since the mid-1990s.
Mr. Biden has walked a cautious line on crime, trying to balance calls for sweeping law enforcement reform with not alienating moderate voters.
He included in his budget request for fiscal year 2022 $2.1 billion for the Department of Justice to process gun violenceAn increase of $232 million over the previous year. The funds include grants to local governments, programs that improve background checks and other crime-fighting strategies.
White House officials said the measures announced Wednesday are intended to build on steps the administration took in April after mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado. Mr. Biden was Direction of the Ministry of Justice to reduce the spreadghost gunsMade with no serial number parts from kits that can be purchased without background checks.
But the administration still faces calls to pass meaningful gun legislation that would restrict offensive weapons. Mr. Biden’s nominee to lead the ATF has yet to be confirmed – a major hurdle.
If confirmed, Mr. Biden’s nominee, David ChipmanHe will become the IATA’s second permanent director since the position became subject to Senate confirmation 15 years ago. The agency will inherit seriously exhausted by the National Rifle Association Campaign to undermine the office.
Republicans, who have used a “defund the police” call to attack Democrats as weak on public safety, stepped up their criticism on Wednesday. Mr. Biden has said he opposes defunding the police.
“President Biden’s failure to hold his party to account for stopping police funding is endangering communities and leading to an upsurge in crime across the country,” said Emma Vaughn, press secretary for the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Biden has a long history with crime legislation. As a senator, he defended a 1994 crime law that many experts say has led to an increase in mass arrests, raising questions during his presidential campaign about his commitment to criminal justice reform. The administration continued to defend some aspects of the bill that would ban assault weapons and support drug courts for first-time offenders.
Bipartisan compromise on national police reform I stumbled in CongressDespite Mr Biden urging lawmakers to reach a deal by May 25, the anniversary of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis last summer.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the president was trying to strengthen police departments as reform efforts moved forward.
“It doesn’t feel like they’re in conflict,” Ms. Psaki said Tuesday, adding that US city dwellers who suffer gun violence want to hear what the president is doing to tackle crime in their communities.
This belief is shared by Quentin James, who runs an organization dedicated to electing African American officials.
“Blacks are concerned about the escalation of crime and how to deal with it,” said Mr. James, chair of the collective PAC. But he said he wanted “to deal with that in a way that we don’t just double police budgets.”
Officials across the country are facing how best to tackle rising crime. In the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, a former police officer, has important leadership after making public safety the focus of his campaign.
Democrats in Washington made a point to funnel money to the party of its choice to fill Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s seat in the House of Representatives in a special election in New Mexico where she faced accusations from Republicans that she was lax on law and order.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is prioritizing reducing violence during the summer by focusing resources on the city’s 10 high-crime pockets.
In Jackson, Mississippi, rising rates of violent crime have fueled anger and resentment at a sense of neglect and prompted city leaders and activists to demand investment in resources beyond policing.
Over the years, the white residents fled, leaving the African American city starving. Residents point to the city’s roads so riddled with potholes that they destroyed tires, and poor water infrastructure that led to a crisis in which residents went for weeks under the notice of boiling water. Activists said the crime was another result of the inherent poverty and lack of opportunity that pervaded Jackson.
“A lot of these communities need to recover,” said Tyrone Moore, director of Strong Arms of JXN, a grassroots nonprofit that tries to stop violence by redirecting young people to after-school programs and job opportunities. “They need some love. They need a lot of repair work.”
Rick Rogas Contributed to reporting from Nashville, and Katie Benner from Washington.