WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden urged state and local leaders on Friday to make greater use of money from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to fight crime, as cities gird for summer crime waves and the U.S. Treasury releases billions more in funds.
"My message is clear: Spend this money now," Biden said at a Rose Garden event. "Do it quickly before crime rates typically surge."
The pandemic relief fund, passed by Democratic majorities in Congress and signed into law a year ago, was a signature achievement of Biden's first year in office. State and local governments were allotted $350 billion to be released in two tranches, in May of 2021 and this month.
Senior administration officials said some $10 billion from the rescue plan has been used by state and local governments to bolster their police forces and support community programs aimed at keeping neighborhoods safer.
Worry about crime and violence in the United States is at its highest level since 2016, an April Gallup poll shows, amid a surge in gun deaths in 2020.
While some progressive Democrats called for defunding police departments after a string of high-profile slayings of Black men by white officers, Biden has stressed spending more on police.
"The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training we need to invest in our communities," Biden said.
Biden spoke after meeting local elected officials, chiefs of police and a community violence intervention expert from cities across America that have used rescue funds to help fight crime.
"There is no community policing without the police,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told reporters at the White House.
He said the American Rescue Plan allowed his city to keep police on the beat and spend new funds on interventions and recruitment.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons, Stephen Coates and Mark Porter)