Biden highlights how federal money is being used to boost public safety efforts

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President Joe Biden meets with law enforcement officials in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden used a meeting with police chiefs on Wednesday to spotlight his administration's efforts to help cities and police departments manage crime while also providing job opportunities for youth in communities affected by that violence.

The president underscored how the American Rescue plan has helped Detroit pay for bonuses and hire 200 additional officers, Milwaukee fund gun crime investigations and Chicago better focus on community violence intervention efforts. He also took a glancing shot at Republicans, suggesting that his administration has helped cities around the U.S. reduce violent crime without Republican help.

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"We stepped up thanks to my American Rescue Plan, which I might note, not a single person on the other team voted for," Bidens said at the start of the White House meeting that included the heads of police departments from Buffalo, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chicago, DeKalb County, Georgia, Miami, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, hosted a roundtable later in the day on $85 million in federal grants meant to improve job opportunities for youth in communities affected by gun violence and crime.

The president is looking to show he is tough on crime and compassionate to those communities affected by crime as the 2024 election heats up and Republicans criticize the Democrat.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — passed in 2021 by a Democratic-led Congress and signed by Biden — contained $350 billion of flexible aid to states, territories, tribes, counties, cities and towns. Biden said billions of that money has been used effectively at fighting crime, including reducing gun violence.

“Since day one, my administration been working with law enforcement, mayors and community leaders to do what we know works to keep people in communities safe,” Biden said.

Violent crime across the nation rose following the pandemic. But despite Republican claims that it's continuing to rise, crime decreased in 2022, dropping to about the same level as before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the most recent FBI crime data. The exception is property crime.

The cities that have benefited from federal funding include Detroit, which invested more than $100 million in public safety, and in 2023 it had the fewest homicides since 1966; 18% fewer than in 2022, the White House said. In Chicago, a city often cited as one with a gun violence problem, the city used $100 in federal funding for public safety and community violence intervention efforts that target communities at the highest risk for violence. The city saw a 13% drop in homicides last year and nonfatal shootings also declined, the White House said.

Biden has called gun violence “the ultimate superstorm,” affecting not just victims but the everyday lives of community members. His administration says the response should better resemble how the government acts after natural disasters.

“It's clear that with gun violence now being the number one cause of premature death for all youth in America, that we must take an all-of-government public health approach to address this crisis,” said Greg Jackson, deputy director of the White House office of gun violence prevention.

Jackson said the grants to communities will help provide key resources for community organizations and government leaders and will invest in those most at risk for violence. He said it was a way to address both “the lack of economic opportunity and the crisis of gun violence.”

The grants will be open to nonprofits, governments and civic leaders to fund education, skills training and paid work experience. The money is being made available through the Labor Department’s employment and training administration.

AP writer Aamer Madhani contributed reporting.