WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa Police Chief Mary O'Connor traveled Friday to the White House for a meeting with President Joe Biden.
They were part of a larger group of elected leaders and law enforcement representatives who also joined the president in the Rose Garden afterward, where he touted his administration's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The president suggested it was boosting public safety by investing in police departments.
"We all agree, as I've said from the outset, that the answer is not to defund the police," President Biden said. "The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities."
Biden said more money should be spent on public safety before the summer months, which typically bring a spike in violent crime.
“Taking action today is going to save lives tomorrow," he said.
Biden’s remarks came as the Treasury Department prepared to release a second round of coronavirus relief funding for state and local governments.
The Democratic president has been under pressure from Republicans and others to bring down violent crime across the country, one issue among many that could complicate his party's chances of retaining control of Congress in the November midterm elections.
Biden has announced a strategy to combat gun crimes, including steps to crack down on rogue gun dealers and slow the spread of untraceable ghost guns, privately made firearms without serial numbers.
In addition to Tampa's mayor and police chief, Biden was joined by leaders from cities like Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, and Missouri – to name a few.
Some cities have used the federal funding — which Republicans in Congress did not support — to hire more police officers, buy body cameras and new police and fire vehicles, pay overtime and improve mental health and domestic violence responses, the White House said.
The 2021 relief package included $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments, money that could go to police departments. Following the killings of several Black Americans by law enforcement officials, some Democrats and civil rights activists have urged cutting police budgets. The idea has been a frequent target of criticism for Republicans.
Both President Biden and Mayor Castor have previously opposed the idea of "defunding the police" and maintained that law enforcement agencies need money.
As he did on Friday, Biden said in his State of the Union address in March, "The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them.”
The White House has expressed hope that the American Rescue Plan will lead to more community policing solutions, public safety programs, and mental health investments.
FBI records released last September suggest that Biden inherited a violent crime problem. In 2020, the year before he took office, homicides rose nearly 30% over the previous year, the largest one-year jump documented by the FBI. There were 21,570 killings, the highest since the early 1990s when homicides stayed above 23,000 a year.
Castor recently hosted the State of the City address in Tampa and outlined strategic goals to transform Tampa going forward as the population continues to rise, including affordable housing, transportation, pandemic progress, sustainability and resiliency.
Associated Press reporters Josh Boak, Darlene Superville and Chris Megerian contributed to this report, along with 10 Tampa Bay's Leo Santos.