WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday convened the first meeting of its community violence intervention collaborative, a group of mayors and administration officials that will share best practices and work closely with the federal government to reduce gun violence.
The White House has touted its investments in these programs as one of the ways it is working to reduce gun violence and combat crime, as Republicans are increasingly looking to use a nationwide increase in violent crime as a political cudgel against Democrats ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
According to details shared first with The Associated Press, Thursday’s meeting was led by Susan Rice, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Julie Rodriguez, director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. It included the mayors of Baltimore and nine other cities involved in the 15-city collaborative: Atlanta; Chicago; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Newark, New Jersey; Miami-Dade County, Florida; St. Paul, Minnesota; Washington, D.C.; and Austin, Texas.
The mayors will continue to meet biweekly throughout the summer, and monthly into the fall, to share best practices.
“We hope and expect that process will strengthen the programs in those 15 jurisdictions, but also give the experts at the table and the federal government more expertise regarding how to make these programs succeed, that we can then deploy in other communities, once we have additional federal dollars,” said Stef Feldman, the senior adviser to the director of the Domestic Policy Council.
Community violence intervention programs focus on both preventing violent crime by empowering local community leaders to engage with those deemed at risk of engaging in or becoming victim to gun violence, so they can connect them with health, economic and other social programs to try to reduce the likelihood of violence being used to resolve conflicts.
The administration has pointed to a report from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence that says such programs can reduce violence in communities by as much as 60%.
The idea of a collaboration among cities, administration officials, nonprofits and experts working on community violence intervention programs was part of the comprehensive strategy President Joe Biden unveiled in late June aimed at combating what he warned could be a “more pronounced” spike in summer crime as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have waned. Biden’s plan focuses on providing money to cities that need more police, offering community support and cracking down on gun violence and people supplying illegal firearms.
Still, much of the strategy amounted largely to recommendations to local jurisdictions on how to use federal funds. And it reflected in part an awareness that the federal government can only do so much to reduce gun crimes as stricter gun control measures have languished on Capitol Hill, where an evenly divided Congress makes them unlikely to pass.
Biden also highlighted the fact that $350 billion in state and local funding from the administration’s COVID-19 relief bill can be used to hire new police officers, invest in crime-fighting technology and equipment and boost community violence intervention programs.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has committed to spending $5 million of those funds on a community violence intervention program in her city, while Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has pledged to invest $25 million to $30 million in federal funding from the aid bill in community-based public safety strategies.
Bottoms, a longtime Biden ally, said in an AP interview that “there were a lot of emotions we were seeing playing out in our streets.” She said that the city was initially worried about a summer spike in crime — but that the federal investments have helped.
“We have a limited amount of resources, a limited amount of man and woman power,” she said. “When you are tackling something this big, it helps to have that technical assistance.”