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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker Delivers Remarks Announcing a New Memphis Crime Gun Strike Force


Memphis, TN
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Mike for that kind introduction.  More importantly, thank you for your 11 years of service as a District Attorney General and now as United States Attorney. 

Thank you also to:

  • Marcus Watson of ATF,
  • Jim Catalano and Brett Pritts of DEA,
  • Mo Myers of the FBI,
  • U.S. Marshal Jeffrey Holt,
  • Channing Irvin with the Secret Service,
  • Postal Inspector Dwight Jones,
  • John Condon of HSI,
  • Sheriff Guy Buck,
  • Sheriff Floyd Bonner,
  • Sheriff John Mehr,
  • Chief Julian Wiser of Jackson Police,
  • Chief Buddy Lewis of Covington,
  • Chief Richard Hall of Germantown,
  • Chief Mark Dunbar of Millington,
  • Chief Steve Isbell of Dyersburg,
  • Larry Laurenzi, former U.S. Attorney, WDTN,
  • Eddie Walker, Tipton County Sheriff’s Office,
  • District Attorneys General Amy Weirich, Jody Pickens, and Mark Davidson, and
  • Captain Roy Brown, Captain Jimmie Johnson, and Captain Curtis Mansfield of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

I am grateful for the contribution that each one of you makes toward our shared mission of protecting this community.

Every day our officers go into dangerous situations so that the rest of us don’t have to.

And your work has a real impact on our communities.  We don’t just prosecute crime—we prevent crime.

After all, most people are not criminals.  Most of the crime in this country is committed by relatively few criminals.  If we can take those few criminals off of our streets, then we can keep them from committing a lot more crimes in the future.

Over the last few decades, the law enforcement community has developed new technologies and new strategies that have made us better able than ever to do just that.

This office, for example, submits all of the shell casings you find at crime scenes to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN, which can trace them back to the gun that fired them.  That helps us find shooters and connect the dots between cases.

This is great work—and the Department of Justice is investing in it.  Two months ago, we awarded $1.1 million for technology and for personnel to operate an ATF Crime Gun Intelligence Center – or CGIC – here in Memphis.

This is a model that was pioneered in recent years in Denver.  Now we’re bringing it to Memphis.

CGICs help reduce violent crime by using forensic science and data analysis to identify, investigate, and prosecute shooters and their sources for the guns they use for crime.  Relying on intelligence from NIBIN, crime gun tracing, and good old fashioned police work, CGICs provide law enforcement leads in real time to identify serial shooters, disrupt criminal activity, and prevent future gun violence.

This Department is proud to invest in this important work. 

I believe that we have a real mandate from the American people to keep them safe. 

When President Trump came into office, violent crime had risen sharply.  After two decades of historic decreases in crime, the trends had suddenly reversed.

From 2014 to 2016, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent nationwide.  Robberies went up.  Assaults went up by over 8 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 13 percent.  Murder went up by 21 percent.

Here in Memphis murder went up by 40 percent.

In 2016, there were nearly 200 homicides in Memphis.  That means that nearly 40 percent of all homicides in Tennessee happened right here in Memphis.

Unfortunately, violent crime in Memphis went up by another 10 percent in 2017.  Last year the murder rate, the assault rate, and the robbery rate in Memphis were each five times the national average.

Obviously these are deeply concerning trends—and we’ve got to stop them.  We’ve got to get back on track.  We’ve got to get back to reducing crime like we did for 20 years, including over my five years as a United States Attorney.

And, of course, we recognize that every district is different.  Here in Memphis, there is a great deal of concern about gun crimes.

Our local partners here in Memphis have told me that in the first 10 months of this year, there were 283 reported armed car-jacking incidents within the city, which represents a 63 percent increase compared to the same period last year. 

There has also been a dramatic increase in thefts from gun stores.  I’m told that in 2018 there has been about a 66 percent increase in burglaries and robberies of gun stores.

That means more illegal guns on the streets—and more illegal guns in the hands of criminals.  That usually means more shootings and more robberies.

That’s why I am so impressed with what Mike and his team have been doing in this office.  Under the local Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, they have made prosecuting the most violent offenders a priority, and it shows.  Over the past three years, ATF has steadily increased gun recoveries from more than 4,200 to more than 4,500 per year now.

Mike also seeks maximum penalties for gun crimes.  As this office has been telling the criminals: “gun crime means max time.” 

I think that is appropriate, because every year that a firearm offender is behind bars is another year that he isn’t shooting or robbing anybody in Memphis.

That approach has led to a lot of successes here in Memphis.

This past January, you secured a 30 year sentence for the highest ranking Gangster Disciple gang member in Tennessee. This case involved cooperation between FBI, ATF, TBI, Memphis police, and two sheriffs’ offices.  That is an example of what law enforcement cooperation can accomplish.  AUSA Beth Boswell worked on that case.  Great job.

In September, you secured another 30 year sentence for a member of the Gangster Disciples.  This defendant had attempted murder with a firearm in order to enhance his position with the gang.  He also served on a so-called “blackout squad” as a kind of enforcer.  The FBI, ATF, the TBI, three sheriffs’ offices, Memphis police, and many other partners worked on this case.  Congratulations once again to AUSA Beth Boswell for her work on that case.

And just two weeks ago, prosecutors in this office put an armed robber behind bars for 30 years.  That case was investigated by the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force and prosecuted by AUSA Reagan Taylor.  Reagan, congratulations.

There are a lot of other cases that we could talk about.  You’re doing great work—and it’s having an impact.

You have taken seriously your charge to identify and prosecute the most violent offenders.  But as Mike noted in his recent opinion piece, “that focus is only meaningful if it results in better outcomes – reduction in violent crime rates.”  And it is there that your work has truly proven successful. 

Here in Memphis, gun crimes went down by 17 percent through the first nine months of this year.  Murders went down 17 percent, robberies went down 12 percent, rapes went down 18 percent, and domestic violence incidents went down 11 percent.

We are seeing these results all across the country where our United States Attorneys are reinvigorating their efforts against violent criminals under Project Safe Neighborhoods.  Just like in Memphis, in cities and towns where US Attorneys and their local partners are identifying the most violent offenders in their communities, and ensuring they are held accountable in the federal, state, or local system.

Those efforts have helped us achieve our goals as a Department nationwide.  In fiscal year 2018, the Department of Justice charged more defendants with gun crimes than in any year in Department history.  In fact, we broke the record by a margin of 17 percent.

More importantly, violent crime and homicide went down nationwide in 2017. For 2018, one estimate projects that the murder rate in our 29 biggest cities will decline by 7.6 percent.

We should celebrate these achievements.

But I’m here to say that we are just getting started.

Today I am announcing a new Memphis Crime Gun Strike Force, led by the ATF.

The Strike Force will initially be composed of highly experienced ATF agents and officers from the Memphis Police Department.  To launch the Strike Force, ATF is realigning five agents and one senior supervisor.  Over the long-term, we plan to add more ATF agents and expand participation to additional law enforcement partners.

For now it will be housed at ATF, but we hope to give the strike force its own dedicated space in the future.

The Strike Force will allow us to increase the focus of our investigations on those actively engaged in gun violence—the “trigger-pullers” and gun traffickers who supply them.  That will enhance our capacity to investigate the criminals and organizations who operate across districts and state borders.  The Strike Force will work closely with this office and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich to ensure violent firearm offenders are identified, investigated and prosecuted.

In short, it will help us build on what we have already achieved over these past two years.

The Department of Justice is going to continue to work to keep communities safe.  We’re going to continue to support our state and local partners—and I believe that our partnerships are going to continue to deliver results.

And so I want to conclude with something a mentor of mine used to say every time he spoke to law enforcement, and I believe it too: we have your back, and you have our thanks.

Violent Crime
Updated November 28, 2018