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‘Spend this money’: Biden calls on states to devote stimulus funds to police

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives to speak in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.Drew Angerer/Getty

WASHINGTON — Flanked by police chiefs from across the United States, President Joe Biden on Friday praised state and local governments for committing to use at least $10 billion in federal stimulus money to bolster police departments.

And he urged local leaders to keep the money flowing.

“My message is clear: Spend this money,” Biden said in the Rose Garden. “Do it quickly before the summer, when crime rates typically surge.”

As Republicans seize on rising violent crime to portray the White House as weak on law and order, Biden is making a push to show that he is a strong defender of the police before the midterm congressional elections in November.

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But the timing of his remarks, just two weeks before the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, also frustrated progressives who say Biden has yet to make good on early promises to reform police departments accused of racial discrimination.

“The funding should be used to help residents hit hard by the pandemic and help them with long-standing disparities,” said Hannah Halbert, the executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit organization.

Instead, she said that officials seemed to be relying on traditional investments in policing. “You’re just going to double down on the strategies that have produced the outcomes we’re living under now,” said Halbert, noting that officials in Ohio had used stimulus funds to purchase police vehicles.

Last June, months after the passage of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, Biden announced that state and local governments would be allowed to dip into $350 billion in relief funds and use the money for public safety. On Friday, the White House said the $10 billion in spending was just an initial accounting; administration officials expect that more money will go to police departments as additional stimulus funding is paid out.

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The White House hopes the spending will help forestall another spike in crime this summer. But some critics said the money should go toward addressing public health as well as economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.