President Biden is addressing the rise in gun violence in many cities by laying out a new crime prevention strategy: to use leftover COVID relief aid to fund law enforcement and hire more cops.
Biden said in a speech at the White House: “The American Rescue Plan, which we passed in the first 100 days my administration, is providing much needed and historic relief to bring back those law enforcement jobs and social service jobs.”
The strategy comes after republicans blamed the rise in crime on the left’s calls to defund the police, and as more Americans have become concerned about the issue of violence in cities. In the last three months 2020, homicides rose by 32.2 percent in cities with a population of at least a million. Criminologists have blamed pandemic stress and a contracting law enforcement industry amid last year’s protests as major factors.
Biden, who previously opposed defunding the police (something which his own party criticized him for), called on state and local officials struggling with a surge in gun violence to draw from $350 billion-dollars in covid relief to hire more officers and invest in community violence-prevention programs.
“It means more police officers, more nurses, more counselors, more social workers or community violence interrupters to help resolve issues before they escalate into crimes,” Biden said.
Some programs Biden referred to are a summer workforce development program for young people, and programs to help previously incarcerated people find jobs.
Part of the money will also go to the DOJ to crack down on gun trafficking and revoke licenses from gun dealers who skirt the law. Biden mentioned that the “zero tolerance” policy on illicit gun dealing will include “strike forces” to stop the flow of guns. There was no mention of stopping the flow of drugs or illegal immigrants across the border.
According to the Wallstreet Journal, the administration said back in March that cities can use funds from the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package to retain public employees like police officers. However, republicans believe that the message wasn’t’ strong enough, and that cities still attempted to toe the line by keeping law enforcement agencies from more funding.
Now, the administration is actively encouraging the hiring of more officers, causing some Democrats to pivot their stance on the issue.
“Clearly, the Democrats own defunding the police, and so I think Republicans all across the country are going to talk about it,” Fla. Sen. Rick Scott said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland also joined Biden in the announcement.
“The increase in violent crime in 2020 and early 2021 is deeply troubling. That is why last month the Justice Department launched a comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy,” Garland said.
Garland, who recently started an initiative to send federal agents into cities to strengthen prosecutions, said the government is working with local agencies to combat the summer crime spike.
“Every one of our U.S. Attorney’s offices is working with its local partners to establish an immediate plan to address the spike in violent crime that typically occurs during the summer, and the law enforcement components or the department are making enhanced resources available to help prevent and disrupt violent crime and to focus on the most dangerous most violent offenders.”