New York Times
By Rebecca R. Ruiz
June 20, 2017
BETHESDA, Md. — The Justice Department will form partnerships with a dozen cities across the country to help them fight gun crime, drug trafficking and gang violence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday.
Under the program — the Trump administration’s latest move in prioritizing a reduction in violent crime — advisers and consultants will help local law enforcement officials develop strategies to combat violent crime. The cities will not receive funding as part of the initiative, a Justice Department spokesman said.
“We will make America and every American neighborhood safe again,” Mr. Sessions said, announcing the partnerships at the start of a summit meeting of state, local and federal officials in suburban Washington organized by his task force on crime reduction and public safety.
“This program will help communities suffering from serious violent crime problems to build up their capacity to fight back,” Mr. Sessions said, denouncing a recent rise in violent crime in the United States while praising law enforcement officers for their role in reducing it before that.
The two-day conference was part of Mr. Sessions’s focus on reducing crime, which has garnered him comparatively less attention than his recusal from the federal investigation into Russian election interference. On that front on Tuesday, Charles J. Cooper, a prominent Washington litigator, confirmed that Mr. Sessions had hired him, although Mr. Cooper declined to specify whether he was advising Mr. Sessions in the Russia inquiry.
In the violent crime program, the 12 cities teaming up with the Justice Department are: Birmingham, Ala.; Indianapolis; Toledo, Ohio; Cincinnati; Houston; Buffalo; Memphis; Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Lansing, Mich.; and Springfield, Ill.
None are among the so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that have limited their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Mr. Sessions said he expected to announce partnerships with additional cities later in the year.
Michael Rallings, the director of police in Memphis, said that he had little sense of what to expect of the new program but that a diagnostic team would soon visit to evaluate his department.
“We’re always looking for resources,” Mr. Rallings said, citing the city’s 2016 homicide rate, its highest since 1993. “Gangs, guns, drugs — these are what we see as the leading causes of violence.”
The Trump administration’s proposed budget includes $26 million for 300 new federal prosecutors, 230 of which the Justice Department said would be dedicated to prosecuting violent crime and 70 to focus on violations of immigration law.
The anti-crime task force was appointed in February after President Trump signed three related executive orders. Mr. Sessions said he expected to receive its full recommendations this summer, but noted that he had chosen to carry out some suggestions already.
Most prominently, Mr. Sessions last month announced a new policy on charging and sentencing, directing federal prosecutors to be maximally tough and pursue the most serious possible charges, even when they may carry mandatory minimum prison sentences. In issuing that guidance, Mr. Sessions reversed an Obama administration policy calling for lenience in certain cases involving nonviolent drug offenders with limited criminal histories.
Mr. Sessions said his charging and sentencing policy “ensures that we uphold our constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress,” as well as an “ethical duty of candor to the courts.”
Around the same time Mr. Sessions spoke, the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report analyzing the effects of the Obama-era policy, which had instructed federal prosecutors to prioritize the most serious drug cases and to overhaul charging and sentencing practices for nonviolent drug crimes. The aim of the policy, put in place by former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was to address inequities in the criminal justice system and reduce the burden on federal prisons.
The inspector general report, drawing on data from 2010 to 2015, concluded that federal sentencing in drug cases had drastically shifted, significantly reducing mandatory minimum prison sentences among nonviolent drug offenders.
For example, the report said, the federal rate for drug sentencings without a mandatory minimum rose to 54 percent in 2015 from 40 percent in 2012.
Addressing a ballroom full of law enforcement officials, Mr. Sessions celebrated the Justice Department’s return to pursuing the harshest possible sentences, save for unusual cases in which prosecutors may exercise discretion.
“We have a duty to make sure our country does not abandon all the progress we have made against crime over the past few decades,” Mr. Sessions said. “For many of our fellow citizens, this is literally a matter of life and death.”
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