Biden hosts police chiefs as Democrats try to contain political fallout from violent crime spike

1 year ago

U.S. President Joe Biden, center, speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, July 12, 2021.

Sarah Silbiger | UPI | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Joe Biden met with U.S. police chiefs and elected officials at the White House Monday to discuss his plan to address a continuing nationwide surge in gun violence.

"We recognize that we have to come together for the first responsibility of democracy: to keep each other safe," Biden said before the meeting. "And that's what the American people are looking for when it comes to reducing violent crime and gun violence."

Biden was joined at the White House by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, New York City Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, community intervention leader as well as several mayors and police chiefs from major and mid-size U.S. cities to discuss his gun crime prevention strategy, which was unveiled last month. 

The meeting comes amid an epidemic of gun violence in several of the nation's largest cities, a growing political issue for Democrats and the central theme of Republicans' effort to take over the House and Senate next year.

The Biden administration faces a large hurdle in trying to balance addressing gun violence with the continued push for police reform in the U.S. following the murder of George Floyd last year, especially as the president has tried to move away from Democrats' "defund the police" messaging.

During the meeting, Biden encouraged communities to utilize $350 billion from the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan passed by Congress in March, to improve public safety. This includes bolstering law enforcement and expanding community services that prevent crime. 

A memo sent out by the administration Monday provided examples of how cities are using the funds.

New York City, for example, proposed to use more than $44 million to expand community violence intervention models and re-deploy an additional 200 police offers to perform administrative functions to the field.

Other cities listed in the memo include Washington, which proposed to use $59 million to add police cadet slots, community services and financial assistance that would help citizens involved with gun violence transition back into the community.

"The American rescue dollars that are going directly to local governments like ours is allowing us to not only have the officers we need, but to have the community violence interrupters that we need to fund pilot programs that will help returning citizens … and this all supports the ecosystem to make cities safer," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said in an interview with MSNBC. 

But the American Rescue Plan is only one part of Biden's comprehensive strategy to curb violent crime. 

The strategy also strengthens federal gun law enforcement by establishing a new "zero-tolerance" policy for gun dealers who violate federal gun sales laws and delegating new power to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, to revoke dealer licenses on first offenses. 

Other federal efforts brought by the strategy include the establishment of five new federal strike forces led by the ATF to monitor and intercept firearm smuggling along several significant gun trafficking corridors between major cities.

Federal statistics show significant increases in homicides nationwide, with a 30% spike in 2020 over the previous year.

Across the country, mayors and police chiefs have struggled to explain what's behind the rise in mass shootings, homicides and other violent crimes.

Experts point to a perfect storm of factors that collided during the pandemic. They include a surge in private gun sales, widespread unemployment and Covid stay-at-home orders that left people trapped inside with little to do.

At the same time, protests against police killings of Black people may have diverted police resources away from traditional policing, and eroded public confidence in law enforcement.

Many of the factors believed to have contributed to the rise in violent crime are difficult to quantify, however.

And given that policing in America tends to be highly localized, Biden's options at the federal level are limited.

-- CNBC's Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.

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