Biden calls on states to fund police and mental health programs to fight crime

US President Joe Biden speaks during a gun control event in the Rose Garden of the White House April 8, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Friday urged states and cities to use federal funds to invest in more police officers, crisis responders, and mental health and substance abuse programs to curb crime.

The president called on local leaders to use leftover money from the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus bill, to help communities fight crime during the summer months help.

Biden also took the opportunity in his Friday afternoon address to push back calls from progressive Democrats to downsize police departments across the country.

“We all agree, as I have said from the beginning, that the answer is not to disappoint the police,” Biden said, gesturing toward the group of law enforcement officers gathered in the White House Rose Garden.

“The answer is to fund police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” he continued. “Investing in crime prevention and accountable community police officers who keep the beat, know the neighborhood and can restore trust and safety.”

Local governments have already used about $10 billion from the federal pandemic relief package to bolster law enforcement and fund programs aimed at making neighborhoods safer, senior administration officials told reporters.

The push comes as Biden tries to scramble to address crime concerns during a critical election year for his Democratic Party. Fears of crime and violence in the US hit their highest level since 2016 in April, according to a Gallup poll. About 53% of Americans now say they are “very concerned” about breaking the law.

The concerns of city dwellers have increased the most. More than half, or 58%, of urban respondents now say they are “very concerned” about crime, up 9 percentage points from 2021.

A dramatic increase in gun violence likely contributed to these poll trends. The firearm homicide rate rose in 2020 to its highest level in a quarter century, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

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Democrats are divided on how best to ensure safer communities. Progressives have called for cuts in police department budgets across the country in recent years following a spate of high-profile killings of black people by white officers.

More moderate Democrats, including Biden, have said better-trained police forces are key to safer communities. The President wants “more police officers on duty for accountable community policing,” the White House said on Friday.

But Biden added in his afternoon address that he hopes state and local governments will use American Rescue Plan funds to develop programs that help people just out of prison and give them access to drug treatment and enable mental health care.

States and localities need to invest in “housing, criminal justice reform, re-entry assistance for people coming home from incarceration,” he said. “Once you’ve done your time you should be entitled to everything from Pell grants to food stamps – the whole business. To be able to benefit from it and [change] your life.”

The question of how to reform police departments promises to play a key role in the 2022 midterm elections, which will decide whether Democrats retain control of Congress. Many Republican candidates have had early poll success by attacking certain Democrats’ plans to cut police funding — which they see as dangerous.

“President Biden believes that Americans deserve to feel safe no matter where they live,” the administration said. “He is determined to use every tool at his disposal to combat violent crime.” Biden calls on states to fund police and mental health programs to fight crime

Chrissy Callahan

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