Biden announces criminal justice and police proposals

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President Biden had planned to announce proposals on crime and policing Thursday, an effort to show he is confronting violent crime while responding to Democrats’ desire for action following recent mass shootings and the failure of police reform efforts in Congress.

Biden tested positive for covid-19 on Thursday morning, and the White House did not initially say if he still planned to share his proposals virtually from isolation.

Biden had been scheduled to visit Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to lay out a “Safer America Plan” that included expanded law enforcement funding to allow the hiring and training of 100,000 police officers for what the administration calls “accountable community policing,” according to a White House statement and senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement.

At the same time, attempting to seize on the momentum of last month’s passage of a bipartisan gun-control law, Biden was expected to propose nearly $3 billion to help communities clear court backlogs and solve homicides; a $15 billion grant program to prevent violent crime and reroute police resources in nonviolent cases; and $5 billion for community violence intervention programs.

Overall, the announcements underscore Biden’s effort to balance liberals’ push for police reform and gun control with voters’ concerns about rising crime. With congressional elections looming in November, Republicans have hit hard on a message that Democratic city officials are trying to destroy or eliminate police departments.

Biden has sought to find a middle path. After some liberal activists adopted a “defund the police” slogan in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder by a Minneapolis officer, Biden has made clear he believes that reform requires more funding, not less. “The answer is not to defund the police,” he said in May. “The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”

Biden’s proposals, which require congressional approval, amount to providing more specifics of his 2023 $5.8 trillion budget unveiled in March. Biden will not announce any new executive actions Thursday, and he has acknowledged that the recent gun legislation, while including the most significant firearms restrictions in decades, fell far short of his ambitions following mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex.

Several of Biden’s proposals Thursday were to focus on police interactions with people who have disabilities or are experiencing a mental health crisis, for example teaming law enforcement officers with social workers or other professionals. A number of recent police shootings — or deaths of people in police custody — have involved individuals struggling with mental health problems.

The president has continued to press Congress for further gun restrictions, including background checks for all gun sales, as well as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Those measures have been rejected by Republicans and are unlikely to pass in the near future.

Many liberals and Democratic voters strongly favor more gun control, and Americans have reeled from mass shootings in recent months, making the issue a potentially resonant one. Pennsylvania, which includes liberal cities and conservative rural stretches, is a critical state in the upcoming midterms.

Biden wanted to push ahead in the aftermath of the recent gun-control bill, modest as it was, said one of the senior administration officials.

“He didn’t want time to go by between that and what he was proposing next,” the official said. “He wanted to seize the momentum, seize the moment, in order to drive it further.”