SES­SIONS SAYS RIS­ING VI­O­LENCE IS A ‘DANGER’ Kevin John­son

AG warns of uptick de­spite down­ward trend in crime rate

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS -

“We are at a time, it seems to me, that crime is go­ing back up again ... Maybe we got a bit over­con­fi­dent.” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions of­fered a dark view of Amer­ica’s crime prob­lem Tues­day, sug­gest­ing that in­creas­ing ac­cess to heroin and marijuana has put the coun­try at risk of re­turn­ing to the drug-fu­eled vi­o­lence that rav­aged the coun­try more than a gen­er­a­tion ago.

De­spite data show­ing mur­der at its low­est in decades, Ses­sions seized on a re­cent uptick in vi­o­lent crime and warned state law en­force­ment of­fi­cials gath­ered here that the num­bers were “driv­ing this sense that we are in danger.”

“Now, we are at a time, it seems to me, that crime is go­ing back up again,” Ses­sions told the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of At­tor­neys Gen­eral. “Maybe we got a bit over­con­fi­dent.”

In his first ma­jor speech as the na­tion’s chief law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, Ses­sions also sig­naled that the Jus­tice Depart­ment would depart from a fre­quently used Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion prac­tice of su­ing lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments to force re­forms re­lated to vi­o­la­tions of ex­ces­sive force poli­cies, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and other mis­con­duct.

Dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, more than two dozen lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies — among them Bal­ti­more, Chicago and Fer­gu­son, Mo. — were the sub­jects of fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions into mis­con­duct. Those in­quiries of­ten re­sulted in “con­sent de­crees” in which re­quired re­forms to polic­ing op­er­a­tions are over­seen by a fed­eral judge. Fer­gu­son and Bal­ti­more po­lice op­er­a­tions are sub­ject to such court over­sight, but Ses­sions has not de­cided how to re­solve prob­lems un­cov­ered last month by fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Chicago.

“Some­how, some­way, we’ve un­der­mined re­spect for po­lice and made — of­ten­times — their job more dif­fi­cult,” Ses­sions said. “We need to help po­lice of­fi­cers get bet­ter rather than re­duce their ef­fec­tive­ness, and I’m afraid we’ve done some of that. So, we’re go­ing to pull back a lit­tle on this. I don’t think that it’s wrong or mean or in­sen­si­tive to civil rights or hu­man rights. I think it’s out of con­cern to make the lives of those, es­pe­cially in poorer com­mu­ni­ties and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, live a safer, hap­pier life.”

Ses­sions said ear­lier this week that ten­sions be­tween po­lice and the com­mu­ni­ties they pa­trol, par­tic­u­larly in Chicago, have likely re­sulted in a pull back on ba­sic polic­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and may be a fac­tor in driv­ing vi­o­lent crime up.

Ses­sions, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor and Alabama at­tor­ney gen­eral, said he was most trou­bled by a spike in vi­o­lent crime in 2015 and pre­lim­i­nary data from last year that ap­pear to re­in­force those con­cerns.

Both the at­tor­ney gen­eral and Pres­i­dent Trump have re­peat­edly cited con­cern for vi­o­lent crime, de­spite data which has shown sus­tained long-term de­clines.

While mur­der jumped by 11% in 2015, the big­gest one-year in­crease in more than 40 years, the over­all rate re­mains the low­est in decades. A De­cem­ber anal­y­sis of the 2016 over­all crime rate in the na­tion’s 30 largest cities by New York Univer­sity’s Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice found that the rate was ex­pected to re­main roughly the same as 2015, in­di­cat­ing that rates “will re­main near his­toric lows.”

Ronal Ser­pas, chair­man of Law En­force­ment Lead­ers to Re­duce Crime and In­car­cer­a­tion, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus on vi­o­lent crime ap­pears to be overly clouded by surges in cities in­clud­ing Chicago and New Or­leans.

“The fact is that crime is at 30year lows,” said Ser­pas, who di­rected po­lice in New Or­leans, Nashville and Wash­ing­ton state.

But Ses­sions con­tin­ued to as­sert that the 2015 uptick in vi­o­lence was not “a one-time aber­ra­tion.”

“I’m afraid it rep­re­sents the be­gin­ning of a trend,” he said.

The new at­tor­ney gen­eral said that he had been “shocked” by the waves of over­dose deaths at­trib­uted to heroin.

He also cited the in­creased le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­jua­naas con­tribut­ing to a cul­ture of ac­cep­tance.

SAUL LOEB, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, shown here at a Se­nate com­mit­tee hear­ing last month, spoke to a gath­er­ing of the na­tion’s at­tor­neys gen­eral on Tue­day in Wash­ing­ton.

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