- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2022

President Biden, scrambling to project strength in the face of a national crime wave, will travel to New York on Thursday to discuss the surging gun violence that includes the recent murders of two NYPD officers in Harlem.

New York Mayor Eric Adams and Republicans have been pressing Mr. Biden to take stronger action as violent crime spirals out of control across the U.S.

At least 16 cities set new homicide records in 2021, according to data released by local police departments.

It’s a messy situation for Mr. Biden, who risks alienating voters by not being proactive on crime. Yet he can’t afford to rankle social justice activists demanding an overhaul to policing and a more lenient criminal justice system.

Mr. Biden has called on cities and states to use some of their unspent COVID-19 relief funds to hire more police. He has largely stayed mum about the slaughter of police officers on America’s streets.

“I’m not sure who Biden is pandering to with this trip to New York because he doesn’t care what people on the right think, and his base doesn’t seem to care about crime,” said Marc T. Little, executive director of CURE America Action Inc., a conservative advocacy group. 

Mr. Biden has sought to distance himself from the “defund the police” movement, though some of his Justice Department appointments are vocal proponents.

Crime remains a weakness for the president at the polls. An ABC News/Ipsos poll last month found that 61% of adults disapproved of his handling of crime, while only 36% approved.

In 2021, a record 62 officers were fatally shot in the line of duty, a 38% increase from the 45 killed by firearms in 2020. Through the first month of 2022, four police officers were killed in the line of duty.

Last month, NYPD Detective Jason Rivera, a rookie, and his partner Officer Wilbert Mora were gunned down responding to a domestic violence call in Harlem. The gunman was shot by a third officer responding and died at a local hospital.

“I think the president needs to be more affirmative on the assaults on law enforcement,” said Charles Wilson, the former chair of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers and a supporter of Mr. Biden during the 2020 election. “It demoralizes police officers and that doesn’t do any good for the officers or the community.”

The New York trip is designed to be a reset for the president. He will talk about the steps his administration has taken to address gun violence, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Mr. Biden will also meet with community violence intervention leaders in Queens and tour the New York Police Department’s Manhattan headquarters, she said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland will accompany Mr. Biden on the trip.

Criminal justice experts are split on just how much a president can do to reduce violent crime that occurs at the local level. Most of the individuals arrested are charged by state or city prosecutors.

“The federal role in policing is limited,” said Marc Levin, chief policy counsel for the Council on Criminal Justice. “Police departments reflect the perspectives and interests from the communities they serve. The federal role is to provide support and training, that is what we are seeing from this administration.”

Mr. Little sees it differently. He says Mr. Biden could use the bully pulpit of the presidency to drive the national conversation about crime in America.

“When you have a top-down federal mindset that promotes diversity and inclusion over responsibility, attorney generals in some states don’t do what they could do,” he said.

Last summer, Mr. Biden enacted several policies aimed at reducing gun violence. He ordered the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to shut down gun dealers the first time they violate the law. He tasked the Justice Department to create firearms strike forces to track the flow of guns across state lines.

Still, gun violence has not abated. Chicago, for example, has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation and recorded 797 homicides in 2021, the most since 1996.

“The research doesn’t suggest that gun control proposals will have an impact on shootings because the guns used in crimes are already illegal,” Mr. Levin said. “If someone is prepared to go to prison for a homicide, they are not concerned about the gun laws.”

As voter concerns about crime mount, the administration cannot afford any slip-ups. Yet Ms. Psaki this week appeared to shrug off the rising crime rate by suggesting that media coverage of it was in an “alternative universe.”

She was roundly criticized by Fraternal Order Police President Patrick Yoes, who called her comments “very wrong.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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