WASHINGTON — Flanked by police chiefs from across the United States, President Biden praised state and local governments on Friday for pledging to use at least $10 billion in federal stimulus funds to bolster policing .
And he urged local leaders to keep the money flowing.
“My message is clear: Spend that money,” Biden told the Rose Garden. “Do it quickly before the summer, when crime rates typically spike.”
As Republicans take advantage of rising violent crime to portray the White House as weak on law and order, Mr Biden is scrambling to show he is a strong advocate for policing ahead of the midterm elections in Congress in November.
But the timing of his remarks, just two weeks before the second anniversary of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, has also frustrated progressives who say Mr Biden has yet to deliver on his early promises to reform policing. accused of racial discrimination.
“The funding should be used to help residents hit hard by the pandemic and help them deal with longstanding disparities,” said Hannah Halbert, executive director of nonprofit Policy Matters Ohio.
Instead, she said officials appeared to rely on traditional investments in policing. “You’re just going to double down on strategies that have produced the results that we’re living in right now,” Ms. Halbert said, noting that Ohio officials had used stimulus funds to buy police vehicles.
Last June, months after passing his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, Mr Biden announced that state and local governments would be allowed to tap into $350 billion in funds relief and to use the money for public safety. On Friday, the White House said the $10 billion in spending was just a first toll; administration officials expect more money to go to police departments as additional stimulus funds flow.
The White House hopes the spending will help prevent another spike in crime this summer. But some critics said the money should be spent on public health as well as the economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re trying to encourage communities to make these investments in health care, education, jobs, housing,” said Kanya Bennett, executive director of government affairs for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a legislative defense coalition.
Congressional talks to overhaul the police department collapsed last year after nearly a year of negotiations. The Justice Department has announced federal investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, but criminal justice advocates have called on Mr. Biden to use more of his executive power to rein in the police. Outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the administration was still finalizing an executive order on police reform.
Despite calls in the wake of widespread protests in 2020 to cut funding for law enforcement and increase spending on health and education, Mr Biden said the best way to tackle crime and provoke reforms was to invest in policing.
On Friday, Biden also praised states that used the funds to invest in community safety programs, such as a Wisconsin initiative that deployed community members to work directly with those most likely to commit crimes. with guns.
“The best way to move reform forward as quickly as possible is to go to the local level and make sure we invest in policing,” Biden said.
The $10 billion in spending included funds to hire additional officers, increase overtime pay, buy police cars and gun detection technology, and improve radio systems and training facilities.
Speaking at the White House on Friday, Detroit Police Chief James E. White said the money allowed him to expand a program that pairs police officers with social workers to better help those with the disease. of mental illnesses. Asked how the federal funds helped his department, Chief White said the extra money allowed him to hire someone to improve diversity in his agency.
The $10 billion figure does not include some state spending plans that are at odds with Mr. Biden’s public safety priorities, such as Alabama’s plan to use $400 million in funds pandemic relief to build two prisons, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
While the stimulus package was meant to give states flexibility, the senior administration official said Biden spoke on Friday about providing police funding with the intention of putting his “thumb on the scales.” and prioritize public safety spending.
In a private meeting in the Roosevelt Room with police chiefs and community leaders, Mr. Biden said he wanted to continue investing in law enforcement, but that the police should not be solely responsible for the dealing with situations of domestic violence or emergencies involving the mentally ill.
Some cities have used the money for public safety initiatives that don’t involve the police. Mayor Regina Romero of Tucson, Arizona announced plans to use at least $7 million of the funds for outreach programs, youth employment and programming, workforce development and mental health and addiction programs.
Liana Perez, deputy city manager of Tucson, said the mayor and city council have developed a strategic framework for funding.
“So it’s not necessarily our police department, but it’s community self-health and safety initiatives,” she said.
Ms. Perez said the city never decided to defund its police department, but tried to add programs and services to help its police force. For example, Tucson created a community health, safety, and wellness program in hopes of diverting some 911 calls to social services instead of the police.
“We knew we had to address the challenges facing law enforcement in multiple directions,” Ms. Perez said. “Not just, you know, funding new officers.”