White House urges cities to use COVID-19 funds to hire cops, despite police skepticism

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President Biden on Monday met with state and local leaders and urged them to use billions of dollars in the coronavirus relief package to hire more police officers.

But it’s not about the money, police say.

During the White House meeting, Mr. Biden called on leaders to use the $350 billion set aside for states in the relief plan to bolster overtime pay, cover overtime costs and spend on community policing strategies.

However, Mr. Biden’s strategy raised questions among law enforcement officials, who say funding can’t offset the exodus of officers that they tie to plunging morale and demands for broad defunding of police.

“In that hiring money, hopefully, there will be a recruitment strategy selling the job to qualified applicants,” said James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police.

A survey of nearly 200 departments released last month by the Police Executive Research Forum revealed retirements are up 45% and resignations increased 20% in 2021 compared with last year.

The survey also revealed that in departments with 500 or more officers, the retirement rate soared by nearly 30% while hiring dropped 5%.

At the same time, cities across the country are reporting a shocking increase in homicides, especially from shootings. Large cities this year have reported a nearly 25% rise in killings on top of the 30% spike in homicides last year.

Although those numbers rose, overall crime figures declined while people stayed home during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Republicans have seized on the rising violence to attack the president as “soft on crime.”

Exit interviews conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum showed that morale is a key factor in the police resignations and retirements after racial protests and demands for changes to policing last year.

Officers say they have been unfairly demonized and have simply had enough. Meanwhile, police academy applications are down nationwide.

In Minneapolis, where former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, the police department has lost nearly 300 officers from disability leave, retirements and attrition, according to a report from Minnesota Public Radio.

Nearly 70 officers have quit in Seattle this year, creating a staffing crisis after 180 officers walked away in 2020. Exit interviews linked the departures to an anti-police climate among city officials.

At least 79 Philadelphia police officers took advantage of the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, meaning they will retire within four years, the city said in April. During the same period last year, 13 officers took the option.

In the District of Columbia, nearly 400 Metropolitan Police officers have turned in their badges since last summer, according to D.C. Police Union President Greg Pemberton.

Mr. Pemberton blamed the exodus on the city council’s implementation of laws holding officers personally responsible for their actions on the job, stripping them of immunity from liability as agents of the state.

“This increase in crime can only be attributed to the D.C. Council’s implementation of several police reform bills and their chilling effect on professional and responsible policing,” Mr. Pemberton said in a statement.

Police Chief Robert J. Tracy of Wilmington, Delaware, who leads the president’s hometown force, said the issue of police morale was discussed during the meeting.

“What they did address is ‘what can we do better for officer safety and wellness and at the same time how to attract more diverse police officers,’” he told The Washington Times.

Chief Tracy said the conversation included ideas about educating the public about how officers are keeping their communities safe.

“Sometimes we are not great at telling that story because it’s always the bad apples that gets out there and gets the attention,” he said. “We have to learn to do better.”

In a move to address those concerns and distance Mr. Biden from the “defund the police” movement embraced by far-left Democrats, the White House convened the meeting to push for more law enforcement hires.

Others who attended the meeting included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who recently won the Democratic nomination for New York mayor, and the mayors of the District and San Jose, California.

Police chiefs from Chicago; Memphis, Tennessee; and Newark, New Jersey, also joined the president and Attorney General Merrick Garland for the discussion.

Mr. Biden last month pledged to help beleaguered cities by touting his administration’s crime prevention strategy. The plan includes spending more on social programs and cracking down on gun dealers who falsify applications or fail to run background checks.

The White House on Monday built on that strategy by calling on local and state officials to use coronavirus relief funds to hire more cops.

In a memo issued to leaders across the country, White House officials detailed how states and municipalities have used the money to boost law enforcement.

“As cities, counties, and states around the country consider how to allocate the historic support they’ve received through the Rescue Plan, we again encourage them to use the funding to improve public safety in their communities,” White House officials wrote.

Cincinnati; Philadelphia; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Kansas City, Missouri; and Walla Walla, Washington, were among the cities that have used funds or intend to use the money to bolster police staffing, according to the memo.

D.C. officials will use $3.4 million from the relief fund to add 100 slots for its department’s cadet program. The city will spend $59 million from the relief package for public safety initiatives.

Mr. Pasco said residents should not expect the new hires to have an immediate impact on crime rates. They noted that it takes three to five years for an officer to be fully trained.

“Even at three to five years, you are not replacing an experienced officer with 20 years on the force,” he said. “The problem is getting worse all the time.”

Emily Zantow contributed to this report.

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