White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday acknowledged the U.S. has seen a surge in crime over the last two years and that underfunding of police departments is partially to blame.
Psaki’s comments came during a press briefing when Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked, “Does he [President Biden] know that after a year in office people do not feel safe in this country?”
“Well Peter, I think if we look at the facts here, we have seen a surge of crime over the last two years. Would you agree with that?” Psaki said.
“So what are you attributing the rise of crime to then?” Doocy asked.
“Well I think we should be responsible in how we’re reporting to the public what the roles are and what the reasons are for the surge in crime,” Psaki said. “Gun violence is a huge reason for the surge in crime. Underfunding of some police departments and their need for additional resources, something the president has advocated for consistently through the course of his career, that’s something we know we need to take action on.”
Doocy pressed again, noting the murder rate has reached a 25-year high and asking why Biden has not been more vocal about the issue.
Psaki claimed Biden is working to focus federal law enforcement resources on fighting violent crime and has put “unprecedented” levels of funding toward rescue plans to fund more officers in cities.
Asked if Biden is considering any other strategies to combat the skyrocketing murder rate, Psaki asked if the administration should be focusing on something other than combating gun trafficking and gun violence and offering support to community policing programs.
“Most people who want to fight crime would agree that’s the right approach,” she added.
At least 13 cities broke their homicide records in 2021; experts say staffing shortages from police retirements and resignations driven by a wave of anti-police sentiment, as well as bail reform, declining arrests, and hardships from the pandemic have coalesced to create a climate of increased crime around the country. Still, there is no clear one-size-fits-all answer for every city seeing a surge in crime.
Cities that broke homicide records in 2021 include Portland, Ore.; Rochester, N.Y.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; Baton Rouge, La.; Austin, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; Louisville, Ky.; Toledo, Ohio; and St. Paul, Minn.
All 13 cities are led by Democratic mayors.
Portland, Ore., rushed to re-fund the police after the city passed its old record of 70 homicides set in 1987 back in October.
The city had been plagued with nightly protests for months in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, with rioters demanding that officials in what is perhaps America’s most liberal city cut $50 million from the department budget to reallocate funds to community-driven initiatives.
The Portland City Council and the mayor acquiesced in June 2020, cutting $15 million from the police budget in response to protests and another $12 million due to pandemic-related economic shortfalls. The budget cuts resulted in the loss of school-resource officers and transit police and the disbanding of a gun-violence reduction team.
Since then, the city has been upended by gun violence, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color. Family members of homicide victims and advocates who work with young gang members have raised questions about the cuts and requested an increased police presence to be paired with accountability and increased social services, according to PBS NewsHour.
In November 2021, the Portland City Council moved to backtrack, unanimously passing a fall budget bump that included increasing the current $230 million police budget by an extra $5.2 million.
The policy shift came amid both the surge in crime and the city’s greatest police staffing shortage in decades, as well as in response to reform recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Other cities, including New York City and Los Angeles, have seen their police budgets partially restored amid a wave of homicides, officer shortages, and political pressures.