A young Black man should not have to fear for his life when stopped for an alleged traffic violation. And no one should have to put their life on the line to stop a mass shooter. At the State of the Union, Mrs. RowVaughn Wells and Mr. Rodney Wells, Tyre Nichols’ mother and stepfather, will sit in the First Lady’s box. Tyre Nichols’ death is just the latest horrific example of the fear and trauma, pain, and exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every day. They will be joined by Brandon Tsay, who showed the ultimate courage by stopping a gunman in Monterey Park, California just last month.
President Biden is committed to doing everything he can to make our communities safer, including by advancing effective, accountable policing. Our criminal justice system must protect the public and ensure fair and impartial justice for all. These are mutually reinforcing, not competing, goals. The Biden-Harris Administration has taken action to advance effective, accountable policing, build trust, and improve public safety so that we make the promise of equal justice under the law a reality for all.
Tonight, President Biden will also highlight progress made to implement his Safer America Plan and additional steps he will take in the year ahead. The President’s Safer America Plan:
Advances effective, accountable policingFunds the police and promotes effective prosecution of crimes affecting families today.Invests in crime prevention and a fairer criminal justice system.Takes additional commonsense steps on guns to keep dangerous firearms out of dangerous hands.
Advancing effective, accountable policing
Re-issuing the Call for Congress to Pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The President will again call for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to advance accountability, transparency, and public trust in law enforcement. Real change at the state and local level requires Congressional action.
Making Federal Policing the Gold Standard of Effectiveness and Accountability. After Senate Republicans blocked passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act last year – even though law enforcement groups supported a deal – President Biden signed a historic executive order to advance effective, accountable policing and strengthen public safety. The order requires federal law enforcement agencies to: ban chokeholds; restrict no-knock warrants; mandate the use of body-worn cameras; implement stronger use of force policies, including with the duty to intervene and duty to render medical aid; provide de-escalation training; submit officer misconduct records into a new national database; and restrict the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, among other things. While the President cannot mandate changes at the state and local level, the order incentivizes state and local reforms through grantmaking, new accreditation standards, and training and technical assistance. The Administration is actively implementing the order. For example, agencies have already prohibited chokeholds and restricted no-knock entries, updated their use of force-policies, and prohibited the transfer of military-grade weapons and equipment to local law enforcement agencies.
Justice Department Action to Ensure Accountability and Encourage Reform. In just two years, the Department of Justice has opened eight pattern-or-practice investigations of law enforcement agencies for systemic misconduct and rescinded a Trump-era memo that inhibited the use of consent decrees, an important tool to reform troubled police departments. DOJ also restored and improved the voluntary Collaborative Reform program, providing technical assistance to police departments that ask for help to reform their practices and build trust, and has awarded millions of dollars in grants for de-escalation and anti-bias training.
Funding the police and promoting effective prosecution of crimes affecting families today
Putting more community police on our streets with proper training. The President’s Safer America Plan would fund 100,000 additional police officers who will be recruited, trained, hired, and supervised — consistent with the standards in the President’s Executive Order — in order to enhance trust and public safety.
Clearing court backlogs and taking repeat shooters off our streets. The Safer America Plan invests in the technology and data systems modernization necessary to ensure that the justice system runs efficiently and with the most current data, such as case management systems that effectively integrate pre-trial services, judicial, and law enforcement records. In addition, the Plan would support district-specific violent crime strategies that involve close partnerships between federal, state, and local law enforcement, and would support crime-fighting technology such as ballistics matching gunshot residue forensics technology.
Investing in crime prevention and a fairer criminal justice system
Investing in Crime Prevention. The President’s Safer America Plan calls on Congress to invest $15 billion in services that help prevent crime from occurring in the first place, including: mental health and substance use disorder services, such as co-responder and alternative responder programs where social workers and other professionals respond to calls that should not be the responsibility of law enforcement; job training and employment opportunities, including for teenagers and young adults; housing and other supportive social services to individuals who are homeless; and reentry services so people leaving prison can stabilize their lives and avoid recidivism. The Plan also incentivizes the reform of laws that increase incarceration without reducing public safety and lift almost all federal restrictions on eligibility for vital benefits (such as food, income, and disability-based assistance) for people with prior convictions.
Support for Community Violence Intervention (CVI) Programs. Community violence interventions are strategies that use trusted messengers to prevent shootings and other violence; they have been demonstrated to reduce violence by up to 60%. Through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and appropriations, President Biden secured the first dedicated federal funding for CVI in history—$100 million in each of FY22 and FY23. The President continues to push for $5 billion to scale CVI programs nationwide. In addition, the Administration encouraged state and local governments to use American Rescue Plan funding for community violence interventions; more than half the states and 300 communities across the country answered this call to action, committing over $10 billion in recovery funds to CVI and other public safety strategies.
Expanding Mobile Crisis Response and De-Escalation Training. When it comes to mental health, we know that people experiencing mental health challenges are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of a violent crime. Policing is not the answer to these challenges – fully funded mental health and substance use disorder services and supports are the answer. That’s why the Biden Administration has put forward a plan to transform how the nation understands and treats mental health needs. As just one part of this plan, this July the Biden Administration launched the 988 crisis response line so people experiencing suicidal ideation or another behavioral health crisis can reach out for emergency help from a health professional instead of calling 911. In December 2022, the President signed the Law Enforcement De-Escalation Act of 2022. This law authorized $124 million to train officers and mental health professionals on crisis intervention teams, including on de-escalation tactics; to support participation in the National Use-of-Force Data Collection; and for related purposes. The American Rescue Plan provided $1.2 billion to over 22 states to fund implement community-based crisis intervention services mobile crisis intervention services, providing people in crisis the mental health or substance use treatment they need and freeing up police officers to focus on violent crime. Medicaid has issued guidance to states to assist them in accessing these funds. In addition, HHS is funding $9 million new grants for states and territories to create or enhance their mobile crisis response teams.
Addressing a failed approach to marijuana and crack cocaine. The criminalization of marijuana possession has upended too many lives—for conduct that is now legal in many states. While white, Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are disproportionately in jail for it. In October 2022, the President announced a full, unconditional, and categorical pardon for prior federal simple marijuana possession offenses. This pardon lifts barriers to housing, employment, and educational opportunities for thousands of people with prior convictions under federal and D.C. law for simple marijuana possession. The President also called on every state governor to follow his lead, as most marijuana prosecutions take place at the state level. And because this Administration is guided by science and evidence, he called on the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
In addition, the Safer America Plan calls on Congress to end once and for all the racially discriminatory sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses—as President Biden first advocated in 2007—and make that change fully retroactive. This step would provide immediate sentencing relief to the 10,000 individuals, more than 90 percent of whom are Black, currently serving time in federal prison pursuant to the crack/powder disparity. As an initial step, the Attorney General has issued guidance to federal prosecutors on steps they should take to promote the equivalent treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses, but Congress still needs to act.
Enacting commonsense gun laws to keep dangerous firearms out of dangerous hands
The President has already taken historic action to reduce gun crime. The Justice Department is cracking down on ghost guns that are increasingly showing up at crime scenes and rogue gun dealers who fail to run background checks or falsify their records. And, the Department of Justice is disrupting the gun trafficking corridors that bring guns from states with lax gun laws into those with strict rules that are desperately trying to stop the violence. And President Biden signed the most meaningful gun legislation in 30 years—the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
He’s not done. The President is not going to stop until Congress requires background checks for all guns sales, requires safe storage of firearms, and bans assault weapons and high-capacity weapons – weapons of war that have no place in our communities.
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