WASHINGTON (CN) — Gun violence has soared across the United States during the pandemic, and President Joe Biden urged local leaders Friday to help police quell the bloodletting with money they got through his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.
Meeting this afternoon with state and city leaders, Biden said states should use money from the American Rescue Plan to hire police officers and crisis-intervention workers and to fund community programs focused on crime prevention.
The aid package, a hallmark of Biden's first year in office, always included public safety as an expenditure available to state, city and county governments that were given $350 billion to spend on a range of programs.
From that amount, the White House estimates, states have already used $10 billion to bulk up local police forces and fund public safety programs focused on areas such as mental health support and substance-abuse intervention. The Treasury Department is set to release to states another round of funds from the American Rescue Plan this month.
"Every governor, every mayor, every county official, the need is clear: Spend this money now. Use these funds made available to prioritize public safety. Do it quickly before the summer when crime rates typically surge. Taking action today is going to save lives tomorrow," Biden said during a speech Friday afternoon.
The president's call for leaders to increase their investments in community policing and violence-intervention programs comes as crime rates, and how the Democratic Party plans to address crime, top voter issues in the lead-up to midterms.
Gun violence rose during the pandemic, with U.S. gun deaths reaching the highest number on record in 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week. The first year of the pandemic also saw a 35% increase in the firearm homicide rate, the highest rate in a quarter century.
Concern about crime is likewise at a six-year high, according to an April poll from Gallup, which found that 53% of Americans worry "a great deal" about crime rates.
Several cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles, have increased their police budgets, and experts attribute the rise in crime to a combination of pressures from the pandemic, tense politics and inflation.
Biden's urging for an increased investment in policing and local prevention programs marks a continued approach by the administration to tow a moderate line on crime policy as progressive members of the Democratic Party push for a reduction in police funding to reduce unjustified civilian deaths by police, a toll that weighs disproportionately on Black communities.
Republicans have criticized Biden over the rise in violent crime during the pandemic, but Biden has repeatedly asserted his dedication to funding police departments.
"As I've said from the outset, the answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training to protect our communities, investing in crime prevention and accountable community police officers who walk the beat, know the neighborhood and who can restore trust and safety," Biden said.
The president's proposed budget for the next fiscal year also puts a heavy emphasis on ramping up funding for state and local law enforcement, increasing discretionary funding by 12%. Biden's administration has also emphasized gun trafficking intervention efforts.
Last month, the White House announced new measures targeting "ghost guns," firearms bought in pieces and assembled at home, that require manufacturers to label the DIY gun kits with serial numbers and mandate all sellers have a federal license to sell such weapon.
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