WASHINGTON — Flanked by police chiefs from across the United States, President Biden Friday praised state and local governments for committing to use at least $10 billion in federal stimulus money to bolster police forces.
And he urged local leaders to keep the money flowing.
“My message is clear: spend this money,” Mr Biden said in the Rose Garden. “Do it fast for the summer, when crime rates tend to rise.”
As Republicans take advantage of rising violent crime to portray the White House as weak to law and order, Mr. Biden is doing everything he can to show he is a strong defender of the police in the run-up to Congressional midterm elections. November.
But the timing of his comments, just two weeks before the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer, also frustrated liberals who say Biden has yet to deliver on early promises to reform police forces accused of racial discrimination.
“The funding should be used to help residents hard hit by the pandemic and to help them with longstanding inequalities,” said Hannah Halbert, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit organization.
Instead, she said officials seemed to rely on traditional investment in policing. “You’re just going to double down on the strategies that have produced the results we’re living under now,” said Ms. Halbert, pointing out that Ohio officials had used stimulus funds to buy police vehicles.
Last June, months after the passage of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, Mr. Biden announced that state and local governments would be allowed to dive into $350 billion in emergency relief funds and use the money for public safety. On Friday, the White House said the $10 billion in spending was just initial accounting; Government officials expect more money to go to the police as additional stimulus money is paid out.
The White House hopes spending this summer will help prevent another spike in crime. But some critics said the money should go towards addressing public health and the economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re trying to encourage municipalities to make those investments in health care, education, employment and housing,” said Kanya Bennett, director of government affairs for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a legislative advocacy coalition.
Talks in Congress to overhaul police forces fell through last year after nearly a year of negotiations. The Justice Department has announced federal investigations into police forces in Minneapolis and Louisville, but criminal justice advocates have called on Biden to make more use of his executive powers to rein in the police force. Outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday the administration is still finalizing an executive order on police reform.
Despite calls in the wake of widespread protests in 2020 to cut law enforcement funding and increase spending on health and education, Mr Biden has said the best way to fight crime and implement reform is to invest in police services.
On Friday, Mr. Biden also praised states that used the money to invest in community security programs, such as an initiative in Wisconsin that involved community members working directly with people most likely to commit gun crimes.
“The best way to get the reform through as quickly as possible is to go local and make sure we invest in the police,” Biden said.
The $10 billion in spending included funds to hire additional officers, pay overtime, purchase police cars and weapons-detection technology, and improve radio systems and training facilities.
Detroit police chief James E. White said at the White House on Friday that the money would allow him to expand a program that pairs police officers with social workers to better help people with mental illness. Asked about an example of 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 doesn’t include some state spending plans that conflict with Mr Biden’s public safety priorities, such as Alabama’s plan to use $400 million in pandemic relief funds to build two prisons, according to one senior official who spoke about the condition of anonymity to discuss personal deliberations.
While the stimulus package was intended to provide states with flexibility, the senior government official said Mr Biden spoke on Friday about providing funding to police with the intention of putting his “thumbs up” and prioritizing spending for public safety.
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 dealing with situations of domestic violence or emergencies involving the mentally ill. .
Some cities used the money for public safety initiatives that do not involve the police. Mayor Regina Romero of Tucson, Arizona, announced plans to use at least $7 million of the funds for intervention programs, youth employment and programming, workforce development, and mental health and substance abuse programs.
Liana Perez, deputy city manager in Tucson, said the mayor and city council had developed a strategic framework for funding.
“So it’s not necessarily our police department, but it’s self-health and community safety initiatives,” she said.
Ms. Perez said the city has never been on the road to offloading its police department, but has tried to add programs and services to help its police force. For example, Tucson has set up a community health, safety and welfare program in the hopes of forwarding some 911 calls to social services instead of the police.
“We knew we had to tackle the challenges of law enforcement from multiple directions,” said Ms. Perez. “Not just, you know, funding for new officers.”