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President Biden on Wednesday said communities can spend COVID-19 relief money on hiring more police to address soaring rates of violent crime.
Biden said in a White House speech that “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 feds began distributing $350 billion in state and local aid last month and Biden pushed the option of using the cash to hire cops amid nationwide increases in murders, shootings and carjackings.
“We’re now providing more guidance on how they can use the $350 billion… to help reduce crime and address the root causes,” Biden said. “For example, cities experiencing an increase in gun violence are able to use American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime.”
Biden said that he believed some cities cut funding for police due to pandemic-related budget woes. He didn’t mention a push by fellow Democrats to defund the police following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin.
Biden also said that violence “spiked since the start of the pandemic over a year ago,” adopting a largely Democratic argument that crime is increasing because of COVID-19 and not because of a policing pullback amid anti-police brutality protests and riots.
Ahead of the speech, Biden hosted local mayors and police chiefs at the White House for a closed-door talk. Participants included Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Baton Rogue, La. police chief Murphy Paul.
“We discussed historic funding for states, cities and counties and tribes for law enforcement and crime prevention,” Biden said. “You know, they’ve not only had to fight this pandemic, they’ve also had to deal with an economic crisis that has decimated their budgets, forced them to cut essential services including law enforcement and social services.”
Biden also encouraged local authorities to set up programs to “make sure young people pick up a paycheck instead of a pistol.”
“It reminds me of the old saying my mom used to use. She said, ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’ Well, school’s out for summer. Teenagers who are in tough neighborhoods: no jobs, more trouble,” he said.
Biden also touted a newly announced “zero tolerance” policy for “rogue” gun dealers accused of violating rules and noted that the Justice Department on Tuesday announced a new effort to create “strike forces” to slow the flow of guns into New York and other cities.
The president said that he also wanted federal legislation to require federal background checks for private gun sales and to ban “assault weapons and high capacity magazines.” Neither reform is likely due to staunch Republican opposition.
Biden scoffed at a pro-gun-rights argument that guns are needed to resist government tyranny. He said, “if you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.”
By emphasizing guns and the pandemic, Biden and his aides have sought to rebut conservative arguments linking increased crime to increased tolerance for lawlessness.
Attorney General Merrick Garland joined Biden for the announcement of a strategy to address the crimewave.
“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.
“Every one of our US 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.”
Garland last month unveiled the initiative to send federal agents to cities that need support catching or prosecuting criminals.
Nationwide murders increased by about 25 percent in 2020 and major cities are continuing to report elevated crime in 2021.
In 2020, New York City’s murder rate soared 44 percent, shootings were up 97 percent, burglaries were up 42 percent and car thefts increased 67 percent.
As of late May, New York City had 17.4 percent more murders, 73 percent more shootings and 24.9 percent more car thefts than at the same point in May 2020.
Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, had a 36 percent increase in murders last year. As of mid-June, the number of murders compared to the same period of 2020 are up 22 percent and car thefts are up 12 percent.
In Washington, DC, murders increased 19 percent and car thefts increased 50 percent last year. This year, DC murders were as of late May up 25 percent compared to 2020 and vehicle thefts were up 34 percent.
Biden did not mention carjackings or a specific policy to prevent them. Some cities, such as Chicago and Atlanta, also are reporting surges in rape.
The Trump administration last year deployed federal agents to major cities to shore up local police forces overwhelmed by crime. Trump later threatened to yank federal funding to cities including New York that allegedly tolerated rising crime while cutting police funding. Biden revoked that policy in February.
The zero-tolerance policy for gun dealers will be enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — which may soon be led by David Chipman, an anti-gun activist whom gun rights groups are seeking to block from Senate confirmation.
The policy could have a significant impact on federally licensed gun dealers. In fiscal 2020, for example, the ATF performed nearly 6,000 inspections of licensees and found violations in about 44 percent of cases, though most received warnings or no penalty and just 136 of 2,550 violators lost their licenses.
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