(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden has focused the opening months of his presidency largely on domestic issues, including crime and gun violence.
Last month, he unveiled a multi-tiered strategy on gun crime that includes giving federal resources to police departments and letting communities use pandemic relief funds for prevention programs, including the hiring of counselors and social workers.
“This shouldn’t be a red or blue issue — it’s an American issue,” Biden said at the time.
But how to deal with crime, particularly during ongoing conversations regarding the role of policing and alternative crime prevention matters, tends to splinter along party lines — and within the parties themselves. Not all Democrats are in lockstep with Biden’s plans, and some Republicans agree with them. Some 26% of Democrats disapprove of Biden’s work on crime, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, while only 6% of Republicans approve of how Biden has handled the issue.
One of Biden’s plans — increased funding, especially in impoverished areas, for gun crime prevention — has support across both parties: 61% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats.
“I feel like there’s always room for improvement,” Bailey Dockery, a Democratic voter from North Carolina, told ABC News after telling a pollster she disapproved, but adding that Biden is likely “doing the best he can.”
Dockery said that there “needs to definitely be control over who’s allowed to have a gun,” but she doesn’t think gun control laws should involve confiscating people’s guns: “When somebody tells you not to do something, you want to do it 10 times harder.”
“Crime reform is not what I think it should be, with the corrections system, criminal justice system … not enough rehabilitation,” Robert Bell, a Democratic voter from Ohio who also said he disapproves, told ABC News.
The administration should focus more on “what are the initiating factors in crime,” he said, including a lack of housing and community resources.
The ABC News/Washington Post poll was released during an uptick in crime in the United States, with 24% more homicides and 22% more gun assaults in the first quarter of 2021 compared with that period in 2020, according to a study by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. There are also ongoing discussions in both local and federal government about alternatives to policing aimed at the underlying causes of crime.
Federal policy on crime and related issues has also been under the microscope.
“Today, there is an emerging recognition that federal dollars have helped deepen today’s devastating fissures between police and the communities they purport to serve,” the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice think tank at New York University School of Law wrote in a recent analysis.
But while most Republicans polled said they disapprove of the Biden administration’s work on crime, some said they support his efforts.
“There seems to be less violence going on since he’s been in power,” Paul Brazezicke, a Republican voter from Pennsylvania, told ABC News in a follow-up interview.
Sandra Buchanan, a Republican from Mississippi, said she approves of Biden’s handling of crime because “I think he’s doing a good job on everything he’s doing” and feels that crime isn’t the fault of the president but of individuals.
Other Republicans who spoke with ABC News said they’re skeptical of some alternatives to policing, including hiring more social workers to work alongside police, but they do believe improving economic opportunities in underserved areas would help.
“I just think, if someone’s at the point where they’re committing a crime” or in a similar high-stakes situation, they won’t be talked out of it by a social worker, said David Patton, a voter from Connecticut.
But he does believe increased funding for communities could have an impact. Patton said he was a driver for Frito-Lay who delivered to inner-city communities, and in “one city where they did some nice work … [it] made people more respectful to the area, for lack of a better word.”
Sheila Tabone of Mississippi, once a Republican but now a registered independent, said she felt that using social workers to reduce crime wouldn’t work “because it’s too little, too late in a lot of cases.”
She said she was a psychiatric nurse for six years, and focused on individuals with mental illness in the community at times, adding, “We do not have the resources for these people so they can live.”
When it comes to funding communities, Tabone said “throwing money at a problem without a plan doesn’t work,” but she supports plans to fund and train police departments, and plans “to help people who want to live a decent life to live a decent life.”
The views of Democratic voters not in lockstep with the administration or national Democrats on crime echo those of recent New York City Democratic mayoral primary winner Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and a former police officer. He called the priorities of national Democrats on gun crimes “misplaced” in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday, saying more focus should be on the spread of handguns than on just assault rifles.
But Adams also was among the community leaders and law enforcement officials who met with Biden in the White House on Monday to discuss plans for reducing gun crimes. He told reporters afterward, “Why did it take so long before we heard the gunshots that families were listening and hearing every night. … This president said, this is not the America we’re going to live in.”
ABC News’ Molly Nagle contributed to this report.
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