More than a year after the police killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests and a movement to reform and even reimagine policing in the U.S., a surge in homicides and violent crime has resulted instead in an expansion of law enforcement efforts: President Joe Biden announced a new anti-crime plan last week that includes using federal funding to support police officers and their ability to help suppress the recent surge in violent crime.
The initiative, which the Biden administration has called the “Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety,” aims to stem what the administration calls an unacceptable surge in gun violence and violent crime over the last year and a half. Biden is calling on communities to draw on funds from the American Rescue Plan to bankroll his directives.
Major American cities saw over a 30% increase in homicides in 2020, and 2021 appears to be following a similar trend. In Minneapolis, authorities say violent crimes increased by 21% in 2020, a year marked by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread protest against racial injustice after the murder of George Floyd. As of May 17, Minneapolis homicides were almost double for the same time period over 2020 and violent crime was up 13.5% for the same time period over 2020.
As part of the plan, the president also announced the administration will work with 15 jurisdictions on updating their community violence intervention programs, including Minneapolis and St. Paul. The initiative will bring together members of the Biden administration and officials from the Twin Cities to “facilitate peer-to-peer learning” and provide technical assistance.
With Minneapolis and St. Paul as targets for extra support, the cities will see some changes, though officials aren’t sure yet how Biden’s directives will fold into existing crime-reduction initiatives.
What we know so far
In a program the White House is calling the community violence intervention collaborative, officials involved in Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s anti-violence initiatives will meet regularly with peers in other target cities, like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Community violence intervention programs, which leverage trusted community members who work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60 percent.
The initiative is the most direct tie to the Twin Cities in Biden’s otherwise sprawling plan to address a nationwide increase in gun crime. One strategy area suggested by the Biden administration includes cracking down on the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes. Biden said there will be penalties for firearms dealers who violate the law, seeking to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” or guns that are assembled from kits and do not have serial numbers, making them virtually untraceable.
In remarks after the announcement of his plan, Biden called on Congress to pass legislation expanding background checks and banning assault weapons. Until then, he said his administration is making it easier for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to revoke licenses from “shady gun dealers” who fail to run background checks or falsify records.
“If you willfully sell a gun to someone who’s prohibited from possessing it,” Biden said, “my message to you is this: We’ll find you and we will seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”
The president also announced that the Justice Department will support law enforcement in local communities, especially in preparation for an increase in violence that’s typically seen during summer months. The support will come in the form of FBI agents deployed to assist local law enforcement in targeting “dangerous criminal organizations,” the ATF embedding with local homicide units and the U.S. Marshals Service conducting “fugitive sweeps” focused on people subject to state or local warrants for violent crimes.
In addition to the law enforcement-focused initiatives in Biden’s plan, the president also announced that communities should use American Rescue Plan funds to expand summer programming, employment opportunities and other services and supports, especially for teenagers and young adults. Biden emphasized that jurisdictions should use these resources as soon as possible “for strategies to prevent violence.”
Included in summer programming are youth workforce development funds, which the Department of Labor awarded through its YouthBuild program to provide pre-apprenticeship opportunities and summer jobs to people ages 16-24.
Biden also emphasized initiatives that will reduce recidivism, or the tendency for a formerly incarcerated person to reoffend and land back in prison. On the federal level, agencies will expand hiring of formerly incarcerated people and propose regulations to “ban the box,” or get rid of the part of a job applications that inquire into arrest and conviction history, until they’ve made an initial offer. Other initiatives include assisting returning citizens with housing and using tax credits to incentivize hiring formerly incarcerated people.
And if it’s not already clear, Biden will not defund the police, despite what Republicans have repeatedly said about the president. Throughout his anti-violence plan, Biden encourages communities to use funds from the American Rescue Plan to rehire police officers to “restore law enforcement and courts to their pre-pandemic levels.”
Changes in store for the Twin Cities?
Though the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis plan to fully participate in the plans the Biden administration set forth, there doesn’t appear to be any immediate changes in mind for either St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter or Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
Overall, Minnesota received $2.8 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which Biden signed into law in March of this year. The city of Minneapolis received a portion of those funds, which will be spent in phases, the first of which totals $88 million.
Some of that money is already slated to go toward community violence intervention programs, and it’s unclear whether the orders of the Biden administration will add to that allotment.
“Like communities across our nation, St. Paul has not been immune to the troubling national trends we are seeing in crime from the lasting impacts of the pandemic,” Carter said. “We look forward to working with the administration and partners as we continue working to build the most comprehensive, coordinated and data-driven approach to public safety our city has ever endeavored.”
The Minneapolis mayor’s office has so far budgeted nearly $12 million for violence prevention, including $1.7 million for public safety workforce training and $1 million for contracting with local law enforcement agencies for 2021 patrols. The city’s police force is depleted: In the last year, more than 200 officers have quit, retired or taken extended medical leave.
Frey’s office did not provide a comment on how Biden targeting the city will affect any anti-violence initiatives that are already in progress, or if the president’s announcement will spur any additional actions or initiatives in the city.