By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) announced several Department of Justice actions to reduce the rising tide of violent crime in America. Foremost of those actions is the reinvigoration of “Project Safe Neighborhoods.”
“According to the FBI, the violent crime rate has risen by nearly seven percent over the past two years, and the homicide rate has risen by more than 20 percent. We cannot be complacent or hope that this is just an anomaly: we have a duty to take action,” Attorney General Sessions said in a statement.
“Fortunately, we have a President who understands that and has directed his administration to reduce crime. The Department of Justice today announces the foundation of our plan to reduce crime: prioritizing Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program that has been proven to work. Let me be clear – Project Safe Neighborhoods is not just one policy idea among many. This is the centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy. Taking what we have learned since the program began in 2001, we have updated it and enhanced it, emphasizing the role of our U.S. attorneys, the promise of new technologies, and above all, partnership with local communities. With these changes, I believe that this program will be more effective than ever and help us fulfill our mission to make America safer,” Sessions continued.
“Recently the FBI released data confirming what we already knew … violent crime continues to rise. In fact, Alabama has the nation’s third-highest murder rate, per capita, and Birmingham remains one of the nation’s most violent major cities,” U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town said.
“In response to this spike in violence, the Department of Justice has revised the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program and developed a holistic approach to drive down violent crime. We have learned that targeted enforcement efforts yield the greatest reductions in violent crime. For that reason, my office, in collaboration with our state and local partners, have begun to identify the most violent locations in the Northern District. We will focus our enforcement efforts on the offenders driving violent crime in those areas and ensure that those offenders are prosecuted in the jurisdiction that will provide the most immediate and appropriate sanction,” Town added.
Town said the enhanced PSN program also addresses prevention and includes not just the deterrence messaging but also support for programs to help keep youth on track and to help reduce recidivism. “This is a critical time for all members and levels of law enforcement to stride swiftly towards forging positive partnerships,” Town said. “We must find ways to collaborate in investigations and prosecutions without worry or claim to credit. To underscore our commitment to that end, and as a part of PSN, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama and the Department of Justice will continue to make available training and technical assistance to our state and local partners to ensure they have the information and the tools they need to succeed.”
“Reserving prison bed space for our worst offenders can no longer be a unique approach to law enforcement. For the sake of our children and public safety, it must be standard practice. We can no longer just take a bite out of crime. We need to sit for all five courses,” Town added.
“Reducing violent crime is our number one priority. We are pleased to see the reinvigoration of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which will allow us to expand the tools within our tool box as we partner with our local, state and federal partners to combat violent crime in the City of Birmingham,” Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper said.
AG Sessions also announced the following Department of Justice initiatives to help reduce violent crime:
Additional Assistant United States Attorney Positions to Focus on Violent Crime – The Department is allocating 40 prosecutors to approximately 20 United States Attorney’s offices to focus on violent crime reduction.
More Cops on the Streets – COPS Hiring Grants – As part of our continuing commitment to crime prevention efforts, increased community policing, and the preservation of vital law enforcement jobs, the Department will be awarding approximately $98 million in FY 2017 COPS Hiring Grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force’s National Gang Strategic Initiative –The National Gang Strategic Initiative promotes creative enforcement strategies and practices that will assist in developing investigations of violent criminal groups and gangs into enterprise-level OCDETF prosecutions. Under this initiative, OCDETF provides “seed money” to locally-focused gang investigations, giving state, local and tribal investigators and prosecutors the resources and tools needed to identify connections between lower-level gangs and national-level drug trafficking organizations.
Critical Training and Technical Assistance to State and Local Partners –The Department has a vast array of training and technical assistance resources available to state, local, tribal law enforcement, victims groups and others. To ensure that agencies in need of assistance are able to find the training and materials they need, OJP will make available a Violence Reduction Response Center to serve as a “hot line” to connect people to these resources.
Crime Gun Intelligence Centers – The Department has provided grant funding to support a comprehensive approach to identifying the most violent offenders in a jurisdiction using new technologies, such as gunshot detection systems combined with gun crime intelligence from NIBIN, eTrace and investigative efforts. These FY 2017 grants were awarded to Phoenix, AZ, and Kansas City, MO.
Expand ATF’s NIBIN Urgent Trace Program – The Department will expand ATF’s NIBIN Urgent Trace Program nationwide by the end of the year. Through this program, any firearm submitted for tracing that is associated with a NIBIN “hit” – which means it can be linked to a shooting incident – will be designated an “urgent” trace, and the requester will get information back about the firearm’s first retail purchaser within 24 hours, instead of 5 to 6 business days.
Prior to becoming U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions served the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate for 20 years as Alabama attorney general, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions is a native of Wilcox County.