Sessions warns of rise in violent crime

Sessions warns of rise in violent crime
© Getty

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions hits back at Trump days ahead of Alabama Senate runoff Senate outlook slides for GOP Supreme Court blocks order that relaxed voting restrictions in Alabama MORE warned Tuesday that violent crime is on the rise in the U.S. and said he will form a task force aimed at restoring law and order before the problem spirals out of control.

According to prepared remarks he plans to give at the Winter Meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, Sessions acknowledged that overall crime rates in the U.S. are hovering near historic lows.

However, Sessions warned that there are clear warning signs — “like the first gusts of wind before a summer storm” — that the nation is at a tipping point and that the trend is about to reverse.


The violent crime rate in the U.S. increased by 3 percent between 2014 and 2015, Sessions said, with the murder rate up 11 percent in that time. Rapes and aggravated assaults rose by 4 percent over that period, according to Sessions.

The attorney general said those trends continued into the first half of 2016, with the number of violent crimes up more than 5 percent year-over-year and the murder rates in 27 of the nation’s 35 larges cities — Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Memphis among them — skyrocketing.

“These numbers should trouble all of us,” Sessions said. “My worry is that this is not a blip or an anomaly, but the start of a dangerous new trend that could reverse the hard-won gains of the past four decades — gains that made America a safer and more prosperous place.”

“While we can hope for the best, those of us charged with protecting public safety can’t afford to be complacent or take for granted the achievements of recent years, because when crime rates move in the wrong direction, they can move quickly,” he continued. “So we need to act decisively at all levels — federal, state and local — to reverse this rise in violent crime and keep our citizens safe. This will be a top priority of the Department of Justice during my time as attorney general.”

President Trump ran for the White House vowing to restore law and order and warning in dark terms about what he saw as an epidemic of violent crime, particularly in the nation’s inner cities.

Sessions has broad support from the police community and is widely viewed as a law-and-order style attorney general. 

On Tuesday, Sessions announced the preliminary steps he’ll take to combat violent crimes, including the formation of a Crime Reduction and Public Safety task force that will tackle everything from illegal immigration to drug control and outreach to local police departments.

Many law enforcement groups see Sessions as a pro-police attorney general who will repair the relationship between the feds and local police that grew frosty during the Obama years as the Justice Department sought to crack down on police abuse.

Sessions on Tuesday said the Obama administration put too much emphasis on controlling police behavior, which put law enforcement officials at risk.

“They tell us that in this age of viral videos and targeted killings of police, many of our men and women in law enforcement are becoming more cautious,” Sessions said. “They’re more reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the hard but necessary work of up-close policing that builds trust and prevents violent crime.”

The attorney general said that, under former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderTrump official criticizes ex-Clinton spokesman over defunding police tweet Obama to speak about George Floyd in virtual town hall GOP group launches redistricting site MORE’s Justice Department, “law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors.”

“Our officers, deputies and troopers believe the political leadership of this country abandoned them,” Sessions said. “Their morale has suffered. And last year, amid this intense public scrutiny and criticism, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty increased 10 percent over the year before.”

Sessions vowed to work more closely with local law enforcement groups so they would know “they have our steadfast support.”
“For the federal government, that means this: rather than dictating to local police how to do their jobs — or spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court — we should use our money, research and expertise to help them figure out what is happening and determine the best ways to fight crime,” Sessions said. “We should strengthen partnerships between federal and state and local officers. And we should encourage proactive policing that ensures our police and citizens are communicating and working well together.”

Sessions said his Justice Department will also prioritize the nation’s “heroin epidemic,” claiming that overdose deaths tripled between 2010 and 2014. 

And he vowed to staunch the flow of illegal drugs coming across the southern border “bringing violence, addiction and misery.”

“In particular, we’ve seen an increase in the trafficking of new, low-cost heroin by Mexican drug cartels working with local street gangs,” Sessions said. “As the market for this heroin expands, gangs fight for territory and new customers and neighborhoods are caught in the crossfire.”

Sessions and many Republicans believe the Obama administration, under Holder’s Justice Department, was soft when it came to prosecuting violent criminals for gun and drug-related offenses.

He vowed to crack down here by bringing federal charges against gang members trafficking in guns or drugs.

“Our agents and prosecutors will prioritize cases against the most violent offenders, and remove them from our streets so they can no longer do us harm,” Sessions said.