Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Opening of the National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety
Bethesda, MD
United States
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Good morning everyone. Thank you, Rod [Rosenstein], for the kind words, and for your decades-long commitment to fighting crime and seeking justice. We are fortunate indeed to have someone of Rod’s caliber and experience serving as Deputy Attorney General.

I am also grateful to the acting heads of our Department of Justice enforcement agencies for joining us today: Thomas Brandon of the ATF, David Harlow of the U.S. Marshals Service, Andrew McCabe of the FBI, and Chuck Rosenberg of the DEA.

Each of these leaders on our DOJ team strongly supports state, local, and tribal efforts to reduce violent crime. They know, as I do, that partnership and teamwork are the only ways to be successful.

President Trump has issued executive orders to the Department of Justice directing us to support our state and local law enforcement and, simply, to reduce crime in America. That is what we intend to do.

That brings me to all of you — the law enforcement leaders, victim and community advocates, and crime policy experts who have made the commitment to be here with us, as we collaborate and exchange best practices in our fight to reduce violent crime and ensure public safety. We are so glad you could join us, and we look forward to hearing from you and learning from you.

As all of you know first-hand, our nation’s violent crime rate is rising. In many of our urban areas, this increase is staggering.

In 2015, we as a nation suffered the largest single-year increase in the violent crime rate since 1991, and the largest jump in the murder rate since 1968.

The preliminary data for the first half of 2016 showed further increases, with large cities seeing an average increase in murders of nearly 22 percent compared with the same period the year before.

This spike in violent crime is not happening in every neighborhood or city. But the trend is real and should concern us all. It must not continue.

I hope many of you have already seen the video of Jeffrey Laney. He is a 6-year old boy in St. Louis whose teenage cousin was shot and killed in April. Jeffrey posted a video online asking for the violence to end. He said, “I’m really scared to die. I’m a kid. I’m not supposed to be knowing about all these guns. I know all about bad stuff I shouldn’t know about. I’m supposed to be learning about school.” He is right. He should not have to know about all this bad stuff. And it is our responsibility to ensure he doesn’t.

Unfortunately, this is what life is like for too many kids and families in the United States of America — and we will not stand for it. Every American, no matter who they are or where they live, has the right to be safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

We must act to reverse this new surge in violent crime and keep our country and every single community safe. This is a top priority for President Trump and for the Department of Justice, which is why we have convened this National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.

And I’ve got to tell you that is why we are thrilled the Vice President will join us tomorrow to emphasize their commitment to this issue.

You know what was the critical ingredient in reducing violent crime over the past 30 years? YOU!

The key forces in the steady drop in crime that we enjoyed until recently were our state, local, and tribal officers — the people who make up 85 percent of all law enforcement personnel in our country.

You are on the front lines of the battle to keep us safe. You are the force multiplier that will make this work a success. The Department of Justice and I are here to empower, support, and partner with you to carry out your mission.

Together we will work to reach the highest levels of excellence and professionalism—always protecting the civil rights of all.

Because you see crime problems up close, many of the best solutions to those problems also come from you.

That is why we invited all of you here, as we work to keep the President’s promise to make America safe again. We want to hear from you. And we want you to be able to hear from your colleagues in law enforcement, from prosecutors, and from academic and policy experts.

Over the next two days, you will have the chance to attend sessions on a variety of topics related to reducing violent crime.

The topics will include:

  • Ways to reduce gang involvement and gang crime;
  • How to use intelligence, analysis, and research to drive good policing and catch violent criminals;
  • Strategies for improving homicide investigations and increasing clearance rates;
  • Strategies for reducing the drug supply and preventing drug abuse;
  • Approaches for protecting victims and witnesses;
  • How to promote officer safety and wellness; and many other topics.

We hope these sessions will help you learn about innovative solutions that you can take back to your own agencies and communities.

Of course, all of you know that the best way over time to reduce crime and addiction is a powerful and smart prevention message. Nothing we say at this conference suggests otherwise.

While state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors are on the front lines of this fight, the federal government also plays a key role. This Department of Justice will join you with new determination.

But that’s not all. To carry out the President’s Executive Order, in February we established our Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which includes experts from across our Department.

The Task Force is listening to ideas from partners like you all across the country, and is developing a complete strategy to tackle these issues, including proposals for legislation.

I look forward to receiving their full set of recommendations later this summer.

Since the demands are so urgent, I am also acting upon their recommendations as they become available.

For example, in March I directed all of our U.S. Attorneys and federal prosecutors to partner with federal, local, state, and tribal law enforcement to identify the criminals responsible for violent crime and use every tool in their disposal to combat these violent actors.

I expect them to prioritize violent crime cases, identify the most violent people in their jurisdiction, and work with their state and local counterparts to take them off the streets. To support their efforts, we will hire 300 more Assistant United States Attorneys nationwide.

In April, I announced new initiatives to advance forensic science to end the forensic bottlenecks that delay trials.

We have also put MS-13 and other violent gangs on notice that if they target our neighborhoods with violence and drugs, we will target them for investigation and prosecution.

I have met with my counterparts from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, and discussed with them how we can work together to combat corruption and transnational organized crime.

Long-term success against transnational criminal groups requires securing our borders and restoring a lawful system of immigration — and along with our partners at Homeland Security, Border Patrol, ICE and HSI, we have taken key steps here as well.

In March, I directed our federal prosecutors to make criminal immigration enforcement a priority.

We are now detaining those who try to enter our country illegally — ending the dangerous “catch and release” policies of the previous administration. To reduce the backlog of cases at the border, we have surged immigration judges to detention facilities near the border, and streamlined the process for hiring more judges.

And thanks to President Trump’s clear message on this issue, illegal border crossings are at their lowest monthly figure in at least 17 years.

Finally, last month I issued a memo to all federal prosecutors establishing a new charging policy. This policy makes clear that Department prosecutors generally will charge the most serious, readily provable offenses supported by the facts of the case.

Instead of barring prosecutors from faithfully enforcing the law, this charging policy empowers these trusted professionals to apply the law fairly — and allows them to use discretion where a strict application of the law would result in an injustice.

That is how good law enforcement has always worked.

This policy ensures that we uphold our constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws, our ethical duty of candor to the courts, and our obligation to the American people to ensure that justice is done.

And today, the Justice Department is taking another important step, by launching a new program called the National Public Safety Partnership, or PSP.

This program will help communities suffering from serious violent crime problems to build up their capacity to fight crime.

The PSP program will use data-driven, evidence-based strategies, and draw upon the expertise of people in the Department of Justice, as well as others.

Our Department’s components will also support the PSP, working in collaboration with our local partners. This program will enhance our support of state, local, and tribal law enforcement, so we can more effectively investigate and prosecute violent criminals — especially those involved in gun crimes, drug trafficking, and gang violence.

Based on local needs, the PSP program will provide two complementary but separate tiers of help — Diagnostics Teams and Operations Teams. Diagnostic Teams will assess the local factors driving increased violent crime, and will help local leaders develop strategies to address those factors, over a period of up to 18 months.

Operations Teams will provide rigorous training and coaching over a three-year period. They will help communities form a lasting coordination structure among federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. Among other things, Operations Teams will provide enhanced crime trend analysis and comprehensive gun-crime intelligence programs.

We have selected 12 initial cities to take part in the Public Safety Partnership program, along with the 10 cities who took part in a pilot concept known as the Violence Reduction Network. We anticipate announcing more PSP sites later this year. I’m pleased that representatives of the 12 new PSP sites are here at this summit.

In closing, I want to thank all of you again for coming to this summit — and I ask that you be as candid as possible with your thoughts and ideas.

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.

For many of our fellow citizens, this is literally a matter of life and death.

Each American deserves to live in a safe neighborhood — free from violent crime and drugs; free from fear; and free to live their lives and pursue their dreams.

Working together, we will meet that expectation, and make every American neighborhood safe again.

As I look out at this gathering, I see so many people who have not only dedicated their professional lives to this work, but who also put their entire lives at risk every day for this work. People who literally live their mission and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for it.

Please hear this from me: THANK YOU. THANK YOU, for all that you do and for the sacrifices you make every day.

We at the Department of Justice have your back, and you have our heartfelt thanks.

Topic(s): 
Violent Crime
Updated June 20, 2017