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Biden touts drop in crime rates during White House meeting with police chiefs

FILE PHOTO: President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden Exit Marine One at the White House After A Weekend in Delaware

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Wednesday celebrated large drops in crime rates across the U.S. last year during a White House meeting with police chiefs from major cities which suffered sharp spikes in homicides and violent crime during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event offered Biden the opportunity to thwart criticism from Republicans who used the COVID-era spikes to paint Democrats as weak on crime.

"Last year, the United States had one of the lowest rates of all violent crime in more than 50 years," Biden told top police officials from cities including Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Buffalo, New York; Milwaukee, Charlotte, North Carolina; and DeKalb County, Georgia.

In an election-year dart at Biden's Republican predecessor and likely rival in 2024, Donald Trump, the White House noted that the United States experienced the largest ever increase in murders in 2020, the start of the pandemic.

Violent crime rates dropped sharply last year, including a 12% decline in homicides nationally from 2022 to 2023, according to a crime analysis by AH Datalytics, after spiking during the first two years of the pandemic.

Biden cited the American Rescue Plan, a COVID relief measure that was supported by only Democrats, as helping boost investment in city policing at a time when budgets were strained.

Detroit and Chicago both invested more than $100 million for public safety initiatives, including hiring new officers, expanding mental health community violence interventions and youth intervention programs. Chicago saw a 13% drop in homicides and Detroit saw an 18% drop in 2023, it said.

Philadelphia invested in group-violence intervention and community crisis intervention, the White House said, and experienced a 20% drop in homicides and a 28% decline in nonfatal shootings last year.

"We found that we could use this money to keep law enforcement on the beat, communities safe from violence," Biden said.

Violent crime also dropped in 2022, while property crimes rose, the latest FBI statistics show. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter decreased by 6.1% and rape by 5.4%, while larceny and motor vehicle theft rose by 7.8% and 10.9%, respectively, the agency said in its national crime report released in October.

The administration also highlighted gun violence initiatives but said Biden continues to urge Congress to improve gun safety laws.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis)