SESSIONS SAYS RISING VIOLENCE IS A ‘DANGER’ Kevin Johnson
AG warns of uptick despite downward trend in crime rate
“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.
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.