Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Major Cities Chiefs Association 2017 Fall Meeting About Project Safe Neighborhoods and Other Initiatives to Reduce Violent Crime
Philadelphia, PA
United States
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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Remarks as prepared for delivery


Thank you Chief Manger, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for your 40 years of service in law enforcement. I know that the people of Montgomery and Fairfax Counties appreciate all that you’ve done for them.

Before I say anything else, I want to say thank you to Darrel Stephens, who is retiring as your Executive Director.  I’m told this is his last meeting.  Everyone please join me in a salute to Darrel for his lifetime of service to law enforcement.

On behalf of President Trump and the Department of Justice, I’m honored to be here with you all today—to be with the selfless and courageous men and women of law enforcement.  The President recognizes the importance of your work, and he is your strongest supporter.  He knows that your work is both noble, difficult and essential. 

In many of your cities today, it’s getting even harder.

I want to talk about our situation today.

After 20 years of declining crime, the FBI’s annual crime report released three weeks ago reveals that for the last two years, the declines have been replaced by increases in violent crime.  These increases are the largest since 1991.  Even more troubling, the 2015 homicide rate increased 12 percent and in 2016 it went up another eight percent.  The 2015 increase was the highest since 1968 – a 20% increase in two years.

I strongly believe these trends are not a blip, and that if we do not act now and smartly, this nation could see a reversal of 40 years of  hard-won gains. The crime rate a few years ago had fallen to one half of 1980.

President Trump recognizes these threats to American families.  He ran for office—and he won—as a law-and-order candidate.  Now he is governing as a law-and-order president. 

As soon as I was sworn in as Attorney General, he sent me an executive order to “reduce crime” in America.  We at the Department of Justice—and our state and local law enforcement partners—embrace that goal. 

And, we in law enforcement know from experience that it can be done.   

That’s why, at the beginning of this month, after discussions with law enforcement across this country and our experts, I am pleased to discuss with you today – this group of law enforcement leaders – the Major Cities Chiefs Association –  something extremely important—a foundational strategy to reduce crime in America.  The Department of Justice is re-establishing a new and modernized Project Safe Neighborhoods—or PSN—program as our priority.  It will not be static but flexible and subject to change as experience and research dictates.

PSN is not just one policy idea among many.  This is the centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy.  There is great support for it among our experienced agents and prosecutors throughout the country—and importantly, our local partners.

As many of you know, this program began in 2001.  Based around a set of core principles, PSN encouraged U.S. Attorneys’ offices to work with the communities they serve to develop customized crime reduction strategies.

And it is a proven model.  One study showed that, in its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent.  That’s a remarkable achievement.  There are Americans who are alive and well today because this program made a difference.

Now, I know that there are other ideas out there.  But what we are talking about today is not just some theory.  We know that it works. Just like we know a well run community policing program works.

But why does it work?  I believe it works because of its emphasis on partnership with local communities, and because it has arisen from experience and sound research.

PSN is not a Washington-centered program.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  PSN simply provides a flexible framework that can be adapted to the situation on the ground in local communities like yours across the country. 

Every city, and every district is facing a different set of circumstances and challenges.  For example, increases in violent crime are occurring disproportionately in certain areas.  According to one study, half of all homicides in this country occur in just two percent of our counties. 

That’s why I have directed our U.S. Attorneys to do two things.  First of all, to target and prioritize prosecutions on the most violent people in the most violent areas.  And second, to engage with a wide variety of stakeholders—from the police chiefs in this room to mayors to community groups and victims’ advocates—in order to identify the needs specific to their communities and develop a violent crime reduction plan.  U.S. Attorneys can help ensure that all the right people are at the table, and coordinate our efforts so that we are working together toward the same goals.  And our U.S. Attorneys know that I am going to hold them accountable for that.

Forging new relationships with local prosecutors and building on existing relationships will ensure that the most violent offenders are prosecuted in the most appropriate jurisdiction.  But our goal is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons.  Our goal is not to manage crime or merely to punish crime.  Our goal is to reduce crime, just as President Trump directed us to do.  Our goal is to make every community safer—especially the most vulnerable.  PSN recognizes that we must partner with locally-based crime prevention and re-entry programs to do that.

While there is no quick fix, we must be open to policies that prevent crime and reduce recidivism.

Partnering with community leaders, and taking the time to listen to the people we serve really works.  I remember, when I was a U.S. Attorney, my office prosecuted a gang in Mobile.  When the case was over, community leaders asked for a community meeting to talk about how we could further improve the neighborhood.  At the meeting we split up into 10 subgroups.   State, county, and local officials listened to the people and we developed a practical plan based on the requests of the people living in the neighborhood.  It was a city, county, state, and federal partnership using existing resources, to fix the community.

And it worked.  I have never forgotten that work.  The result was a transformed community in a surprisingly short period of time.  Crime went down; home values went up; new houses were built; a police precinct was established.  I’ve been back to that neighborhood many times to see the progress.

I will say, however, that we have even more research, experience, and information to be effective today than we did back then.  The technologies and data available to us now far surpass what we’ve used in the past. Our police officers and police leaders are more professional and trained than ever before.

With these advantages we can make PSN even better than ever.

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein—a proud son of this city, by the way—will oversee implementation of these policy changes, and I could not be more confident in his leadership.  As the U.S. Attorney for the state of Maryland, he led the PSN program during its entire existence.  He knows it works and how to make it better.

An enhanced and expanded PSN will make better use of our resources. For example, we will be extending grant funding to implement the Crime Gun Intelligence Center model – which detects gunshots – to two new cities.  So far the Department has provided grant funding for it in Denver, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C..  Some of the people in this room—Chief Ed Flynn and Chief Charlie Beck—can tell you that it works. 

Earlier this month I announced that we will extend funding to Kansas City and Phoenix.  Their police chiefs are here today: Chief Rick Smith and Chief Jeri Williams.  This grant funding will help you do your jobs—and you help us do our jobs.

And in the coming months, the Department will award more than $100 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to hire more police officers.  We also intend to hire 230 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys in 2018 as a step toward our goal of eventually hiring a total of 300 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys.  These exceptional and talented prosecutors are key leaders in our crime fighting partnership.

With all of that in mind, the Department is asking Congress to invest in PSN.  The President’s fiscal year 2018 budget requested $70 million in locally-controlled grant funding to build on and expand the PSN initiative.

Our success, your success, in bringing down the crime rate for over two decades, and the promising success of PSN show us that there is hope.  Law enforcement officers—you and I—can make a difference.  With the right tactics and the right resources, we can reduce crime in this country. 

And that’s what, together, we are determined to do so. 

The Department of Justice will heed the President’s call. We will not concede a single block or street corner in the United States to lawlessness or crime.  The criminals, the gang members, and the drug traffickers should know:  we are coming after you—and we have better tools and are better coordinated than ever.

And so to everyone in this room, our friends and partners: thank you for your hard work to serve and protect this country.  It is truly a noble and high calling to work every day to ensure the safety and security of the people of this nation. You are on the front lines.

We are proud to stand with you.  God bless you all.

Updated April 19, 2018