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Biden Has A Plan To Curb Gun Violence Using COVID-19 Aid Money

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Homicide rates have been soaring, especially in big cities, so President Biden today announced a new plan for dealing with the increase. But there's concern from a number of quarters about whether this is the right approach. His plan includes more money for police departments and community programs. And it comes as the nation grapples with policing and as Congress continues to try to reach a deal on police reform. White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here.

Welcome back.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: Can you give us more details on what the president is proposing?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. So there are a few measures he's announcing. Some are new, others are not. He said state and local governments could use some COVID-19 relief money to hire police officers and pay overtime. And some of that same money can also go to community programs, like job plans for teens and other programs that put vulnerable kids on a different track and away from violence. Another part of the plan involves cracking down on gun sellers. That's something Biden talked about today with Attorney General Merrick Garland. You know, they met with a group of mayors and advocates to discuss the issue at the White House.

And this is, I will say, becoming a major political issue for Biden. As NPR has reported, we're on pace to have the most violent year in two decades. In May, there was a 28% increase in homicides in Philadelphia, 23% in New York. And Republicans are blaming Biden for the rise in crime rates in some of these cities.

CORNISH: We're also talking about cities where there were very public protests over police misconduct or police brutality. How is the White House kind of balancing these concerns?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, Congress has been working on a bill with reforms since last summer when George Floyd was killed. Republican Senator Tim Scott has been negotiating with Democratic Representative Karen Bass on this. And today, Scott said they were hoping to work out final language as soon as tomorrow. Now, a key part of Biden's plan to address the increase in crime involves more funding for police. But there is concern among some progressives about that being the focus.

And one of the people in today's meeting was Eddie Bocanegra. He leads a program in Chicago run by Heartland Alliance. You know, he's pleased the White House is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing gun violence, but he told me he wants to make sure that alternatives to policing are part of the plan.

EDDIE BOCANEGRA: It's good to hear that there's going to be more investment in training and development of technology around law enforcement. But let's make sure that the same efforts and the same level of funding - right? - that we see increases in other places on law enforcement, that we see that in our communities as well.

CORNISH: When you reach out to law enforcement groups, what do they say?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, there is concern from one group that the right people are not being consulted - for instance, the mayor of Miami-Dade County. She was there, but the Miami police chief, Art Acevedo, was not. And he leads up a group that represents dozens of police chiefs from the largest cities in the country. Now, these are the places that are seeing these increases in crime. He said on CNN today that he was disappointed that he was not invited to the meeting.

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ART ACEVEDO: And what we want to hear from the president is a commitment to look at what's going on with our criminal justice system, with court systems that are shut down, with judges and prosecutors that are absolutely coddling violent criminals.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, I asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about this. She said the White House was looking for a diverse group of stakeholders in the meeting today. And she said there will be more conversations to come.

CORNISH: What about the money? It's supposed to come from the COVID aid package. How does that work?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, so the package included money for state and local governments and gave them the latitude to spend some of it on policing where needed. The budgets of local governments were hit really hard during the shutdowns, as you know. But you'll also recall that some states and local governments also wanted to use this money for other things, such things as including infrastructure. And the Biden administration has said no to some of these requests. So, you know, there has been some inconsistency here, at least in the messaging.

CORNISH: From the White House, NPR's Franco Ordoñez reporting.

Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.