Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you to my federal partners in law enforcement and, especially, to our state and local law enforcement partners for joining me this afternoon.
I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone here that New Mexico, generally – and Albuquerque, specifically – is experiencing a violent crime crisis. Unlike many cities in the United States that have seen violent crimes rates fall over the past few years, violent crime rates in Albuquerque remain stubbornly high.
In the months ahead, the federal government is going to be stepping up our efforts to work closely with our state and local partners to ratchet up the attack on violent crime. We are targeting a select number of cities throughout the country that have the highest crime rates. I view Operation Triple Beam as preparing the field for these efforts that will be coming in the weeks ahead.
I am here to announce the successful conclusion of this 90-day operation. This is a U.S. Marshals operation that focuses on apprehending dangerous fugitives, particularly those prone to violence who are a threat to the community. The key to Operation Triple Beam is that it is conducted in close cooperation with state and local law enforcement, who really are the backbone of the effort. I’d like to congratulate all those who participated, and are here today, in a very successful operation.
At any one time, there are approximately 1.2 million fugitives at large in the United States – it is likely that approximately half a million of these are dangerous fugitives. The Operation Triple Beam program, which was started as a pilot program in 2011, targets cities with the highest crimes rates to get the violent offenders, those who are committing these crimes, off the streets. Unfortunately, Albuquerque has been one of these cities where violent crimes rates remain too high.
My top priority as Attorney General is to continue the fight against violent crime, and step it up wherever needed. When I first served as Attorney General back in the early 90s, crime was at its highest in American history, with its peak in 1992. Since 1992, crime has essentially been cut in half. Starting in the last two years of the Obama administration, we started to see violent crime head back up throughout the country. In the first two years of this administration, we have once again succeeded in reducing violent crime, stopping this upward trend and turning it around, pushing it back down.
But there are still areas where we have not yet succeeded in doing that. In 2018, violent crime in Albuquerque was 3.7 times the national average; murder rate was 2.5 times the national average; and aggravated assault was four times the national average. Our early 2019 numbers, which we have taken from major city chiefs, indicates that violent crime is still up in Albuquerque. In some areas, substantial progress has been made, such as robbery, but in other areas, such as aggravated assault, crime is still creeping up.
Operation Triple Beam is a national fugitive apprehension program that this administration has decided to use as an important tool in our attack on violent crime. Approximately half of all the arrests made under Operation Triple Beam have occurred in the last two years, though the program started in 2011. This gives you an indication of how we are escalating this effort.
I want to recognize the superb work of the U.S. Marshals, under the leadership of Director Donald Washington, who is with me here, and U.S. Marshal Sonya Chavez. The Marshals were founded when our nation was founded and from the earliest period, one of their key tasks has been apprehension. They are our fugitive enforcers in this country. This operation continues that proud tradition.
I would also like to thank our state and local partners. This morning, I met Sheriff Gonzalez, who has dedicated 100 sworn officers to this effort, with a third of his sworn officers overall dedicated to Operation Triple Beam. Working closely with our state and local partners is our best tool in combating violent crime, and I think this particular operation is an exceptional example of what we can do together.
I do want to briefly mention another very important issue, and I think it’s very important to the people of New Mexico: part of the violence that we see, part of the trouble that is driving violent crime, is the narcotics problem.
While we have a national opioid problem, we also have a very serious increase in methamphetamine being produced and distributed from Mexico. We also have an increasingly serious problem with Fentanyl, which is a deadly drug responsible for a lot of the drug overdoses. One of the most pernicious aspects of the drug problem right now is that Fentanyl is being mixed in with all kinds of other drugs, including methamphetamine, so people taking those drugs do not know exactly what they are taking and this is what is driving a lot of drug overdoses.
In this country, there are 70,000 overdoses a year. That’s how many casualties you would have if you were fighting a major war. That is the impact it is having on our country.
In addition to Fentanyl, there are drugs that are like Fentanyl, that are modeled after Fentanyl, whose chemistry are changed slightly, so it is not technically-speaking Fentanyl — we call these Fentanyl analogues. They are just as deadly and just as pernicious. Until recently, they were not illegal because they were not technically Fentanyl.
In February 2018, DEA was given the authority by Congress to schedule these drugs, to make them illegal on an emergency basis. At the same time, we have been pressing China, which is a source of a lot of these drugs, to prohibit fentanyl analogues and to go after them from an enforcement standpoint. China has now done that.
This coming February, our authority to schedule Fentanyl analogues expires and, at that point, we will be fair game for all of those in Mexico who are producing these drugs and distributing them. Unless we can schedule these drugs and continue enforcement operations against Fentanyl analogues, it will have a massive impact on the United States. Congress has to reauthorize the scheduling of Fentanyl analogues before they expire in February of 2020. I call upon Congress to move quickly and to take this action.
With that, I would like to call upon Director Don Washington of the U.S. Marshals Service, to discuss more details of Operation Triple Beam.