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Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks on Project Safe Neighborhoods’ Role in Violent Crime Reduction Across the United States


Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, John for that generous introduction and thank you for your leadership. 

What a beautiful building.  It is an honor to be here.

Thank you to:

  • Governor Gary Herbert
  • Attorney General Sean Reyes
  • Our Master of Ceremonies, AUSA Isaac Workman
  • Deb Livingston of ATF
  • Tim McDermott of DEA
  • Dan Brady of the FBI
  • U.S. Marshal Matt Harris
  • Steve Andres with our Homeland Security Investigators
  • Robert Culley of ICE
  • Tara Sullivan of IRS Criminal Investigations
  • Police Chief Tom Ross, President of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association
  • Sheriff Paul Wimmer, President of the Utah Sheriffs Association
  • Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt
  • Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson
  • And Colonel Brian Redd—who serves as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

There are a lot more Utah law enforcement leaders here today.

On behalf of President Trump, thank you all for your service.

Make no mistake about it: President Trump is a law and order president.

He took office with a mission, a mandate from the American people to restore public safety.

When I took office as Attorney General, violent crime had been rising significantly.  Big mistakes had been made.  Some people saw police as the problem.  In the last two years of the previous administration, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent.  Assaults went up nearly 10 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 11 percent.  Murder shot up by more than 20 percent.  That’s what was happening when he took office.

These trends were utterly unacceptable.

This was especially shocking because from 1991 to 2014, violent crime had dropped by half.  Murder dropped by half.  So did aggravated assault.  Rape decreased by more than a third, and robbery plummeted by nearly two-thirds.

From day one I plainly stated our goals were to reduce crime, reduce homicides, reduce opioid prescriptions, and reduce overdose deaths.

I am proud to say that there are signs that we are already achieving all of these goals.

Last week the FBI released the final crime numbers for 2017, which showed that violent crime and murder had not just stabilized, but actually went down. 

For this year, one estimate projects that the murder rate in our 29 biggest cities will decline by 7.6 percent—bringing the murder rate back down to 2015 levels in those cities.

The DEA’s National Prescription Audit shows that in the first quarter of 2018, opioid prescriptions went down by nearly 12 percent compared to the first quarter of 2017, when President Trump took office.  And that's in addition to a seven percent decline in 2017.

And while 2017 saw more overdose deaths than 2016, data for the last quarter of the year show that the increases may have finally stopped.

The evidence is coming in that we have begun to achieve all four of my goals as Attorney General.

So how did we do it?

This achievement was based on our close partnerships with the 85 percent of law officers in this country who serve at the state and local levels.

One year ago this week, I announced that the Trump administration was re-launching PSN as the centerpiece of our efforts to fight violent crime.

As this crowd knows, PSN began in 2001.  There is great support for it among our experienced agents and prosecutors throughout the country—and importantly, our local partners.  Just ask the great John Huber—he was once our PSN coordinator for Utah.

PSN quickly proved to be a success.  One study showed that, in its first five years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of more than 40 percent.  There are Americans who are alive and well today because this program made a difference.

PSN 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 Salt Lake City and across the country.

Every city, and every district is facing a different set of circumstances and challenges.  That’s why I have directed John and 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, I have ordered our U.S. Attorneys to engage with a wide variety of stakeholders—from the police chiefs, to sheriffs, 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. 

Our goal is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons.  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.

Partnering with community leaders, and taking the time to listen to the people we serve really works.  I remember that, 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 Dr. Martin Luther King 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.

Today we have even more research, experience, and information 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.

PSN is bringing successes like the one I saw in Mobile to communities all across America.

Right here in Salt Lake City, quality police work resulted in the arrest of a suspect involved in a drive-by shooting.  Department-supported analysis of the shell casings from the scene confirmed that the gun recovered from the suspect was the same gun that had been used in the shooting.  It also connected the gun – and the suspect – to an unsolved shooting two months earlier at a child’s birthday party 38 miles away in Ogden.

The defendant in that case is a felon and a documented gang member.  Ballistics analysis helped us prove that he was a serial shooter.  John Huber has charged him as a felon in possession of a firearm for his role in both shootings.  The strength of the evidence helped us detain him pending trial so he cannot terrorize the community any further.

In another great Utah case, officers pursued a stolen vehicle for 10 miles and then disabled the vehicle.  Officers found a pistol in the vehicle. Using ballistics analysis, officers were able to determine that the same pistol had been use to fire the same kind of bullets at a police officer just four days prior.  The defendant in this case is a felon and faces up to 10 years for illegal possession of a firearm.

There are many, many more cases we could talk about.  Our prosecutors in Utah are running up the score against the criminals.  They charged 29 percent more defendants in 2017 than they did in 2014.  That includes 64 percent more drug trafficking defendants, 44 percent more violent crime defendants, and 40 percent more illegal re-entries.

Isaac Workman deserves a lot of credit for the role that he has played as PSN coordinator for Utah.  He and I have met together and he has briefed me on this fabulous work.  John and our prosecutors here in Utah keep telling me how hard-working and how effective Isaac has been.

In 2018, the Department of Justice prosecuted more violent criminals than in any year on record. 

At the same time, we charged the highest number of federal firearm defendants in history.  Fully 41 percent more gun defendants were prosecuted in fiscal year 2017 than they were just five years before.

This past year we broke our own record—and it wasn’t even close.

Over the last fiscal year—October 1 of 2017 up to September 30, 2018—the Department of Justice brought charges against 15 percent more violent crime defendants than we did in the previous, record-breaking year.  That’s 20 percent more violent crime defendants than we charged in fiscal 2016.

We also charged nearly 20 percent more firearm defendants than we did in 2017 and 30 percent more than we charged in 2016.

We’ve been so tough on illegal guns that we’re actually getting attacked in the press for it—if you can believe that.

Here’s what the critics don’t understand: we are going after violent felons.  We are targeting the most dangerous people in the most violent areas who have guns.

Fortunately, many leaders from both parties in Congress understand that.  Thanks to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Congress provided us with $35 million for PSN for this past fiscal year.  For 2019, they’ve increased that funding to $50 million—an increase of 42 percent.  We are working to ensure that money flows directly into our communities in every district across the country. 

And so I want to thank those in Congress who have stood up for PSN, especially my good friend Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Congressman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey of New York, Congressman John Culberson of Texas, and Congressman Jose Serrano of New York. 

PSN is completely bipartisan.  Congress is investing in PSN—and PSN is investing in our state and local law enforcement, in researchers, in community groups, and re-entry programs.

Utah has shown that is a good investment.

Thanks to bipartisan support from Congress, I am announcing today that the Department of Justice is awarding $30 million in PSN grants for 86 districts across America.

That includes $262,000 for the people of Utah.

I believe those grants are going to help us continue to make PSN a success and I want to thank my former colleagues in Congress for their support.

Law enforcement pays dividends—because when we have safer streets, businesses are more likely to invest and create jobs, property values go up, and the people we serve are more likely to flourish.

And so we are going to keep up this pace.  We are going to keep supporting Utah’s state and local police.  We’re going to keep arming them with the tools, resources, and expertise that they need to protect the people of this city and this state.

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Violent Crime
Updated October 3, 2018