Biden tells states to increase cops, mental health programs to fight crime

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event on gun control in the Rose Garden at the White House April 8, 2021 in Washington, DC.

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

The president is expected to speak later in the day and ask local leaders to deploy leftover money from the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus law, to help communities fight crime during the summer months.

Local governments have already used some $10 billion from the federal pandemic aid package to strengthen law enforcement and fund programs that aim to keep neighborhoods safer, senior administration officials told reporters.

The push comes as Biden tries to show an effort to address concerns about crime during a critical election year for his Democratic Party. Fear about crime and violence in the U.S. touched its highest level since 2016 in April, according to a Gallup poll. Some 53% of Americans now say they worry a “great deal” about lawbreaking.

Concerns among city residents have increased the most. More than half, or 58%, of urban respondents now say they worry a “great deal” about crime, up 9 percentage points from 2021.

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

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Democrats are split on how best to ensure safer communities. Progressives have in recent years called to slash police department budgets across the country in the wake of a string of high-profile killings of Black people by white officers.

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

The issue of how to reform police departments promises to play a key role in the 2022 midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats retain control of Congress. Many Republican candidates have found early success in polls through attacks on certain Democrats’ plans to gut police funding — which they view as dangerous.

Biden will meet Friday with local elected officials, chiefs of police and a community violence intervention expert representing U.S. cities that have used American Rescue Plan funds to fight crime.

The president will then offer public comments on those efforts and encourage other town and cities to make their own investments, the White House said.

“President Biden believes that Americans deserve to feel safe no matter where they live,” the administration said. “He is committed to using every tool at his disposal to fight violent crime.”

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