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


President Biden on Monday met with state and local leaders urging them to use billions in the COVID-19 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 (PERF) revealed retirements are up 45% and resignations increased 20% in 2021 compared to last year.

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

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

Those numbers are rising even as overall crime figures declined while people stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Exit interviews conducted by PERF showed that morale is a key factor in the spike in police resignations and retirements, which followed last year’s racial protests and demands for changes to policing.

Officers say they have been unfairly demonized and have simply had enough, walking off the job. 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 opted for 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 program.

In the District of Columbia, nearly 400 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 new laws holding officers personally responsible for their actions on the job, stripping them of their previous 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.

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

“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.

In addition to Mr. Tracy, others who attended the meeting include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who recently won the Democratic nomination for New York City mayor, and the mayors of the District and San Jose, California.

Police chiefs from Chicago, Memphis 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 upon local and state officials to use the COVID-19 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; 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 COVID fund to add 100 new 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, noting it takes between 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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