Hyping Violent-Crime Crisis, Sessions Renews Gang Focus

WASHINGTON (CN) – Deflecting calls for tighter gun control in the wake of the country’s deadliest mass shooting, Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled new anti-crime measures Thursday geared toward the administration’s anti-gang focus.

In a statement this afternoon, Sessions cited recent FBI figures that the violent-crime rate rose by nearly 7 percent over the past two years, but he omitted telling context.

The 1.24 million violent crimes in 2016, up from 1.19 million the year prior, is still well below the level of 1.42 million reported a decade ago, when the rate was 471 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in the country.

Sessions also today voiced alarm that the homicide rate — 5.3 murders per 100,000 Americans in 2016 — is 20 percent higher than the 4.4 rate reported in 2014.

Offsetting these figures, however, the FBI noted that the murder rate of 6.8 in 2007 was 6 percent higher than last year’s numbers.

Because of reductions in property crimes like burglaries and thefts meanwhile, the total crime rate dropped 1.3 percent in 2016, continuing a 15-year trend of decreasing overall crime rates.

Analysts have been quick to undercut what the Justice Department hypes as a trend of increasing violent crime by pointing out that the violent upticks Americans experienced last year were concentrated in small parts of the country.

Chicago, for example, accounted for 20 percent of the overall increase in murders last year, according to a report last month by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Sessions nevertheless announced Thursday that the surge calls for a renewal of the anti-gang initiative Project Safe Neighborhoods. In the 2018 budget put forward by President Donald Trump, Project Safe Neighborhoods was earmarked to get $70 million — a funding increase of 1,077 percent, as tabulated by the Brennan Center.

Sessions issued a memo that directs federal prosecutors “to implement an enhanced violent crime reduction program that incorporates the lessons learned since Project Safe Neighborhoods launched in 2001.”

Trump’s 2017 budget also included grants for Phoenix, Arizona, and Kansas, City, Missouri, to help those cities identify their jurisdiction’s “most violent offenders … using new technologies such as gunshot detection systems combined with gun crime intelligence from NIBIN, eTrace, and investigative efforts.”

NIBIN is short for the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives notes is the country’s “only interstate automated ballistic imaging network.”

Sessions noted that the Justice Department plans to cap off the year with a nationwide expansion of the NIBIN Urgent Trace Program.

“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 requestor will get information back about the firearm’s first retail purchaser within 24 hours, instead of five to six business days,” according to a statement from the Justice Department.

Staffing is another area where the Justice Department is investing for the fight against violent crime. Sessions noted that DOJ is allocating 40 prosecutors to approximately 20 U.S. Attorney’s Offices for this focus.

The department also plans to award approximately $98 million in hiring grants to state, local and tribal law-enforcement agencies as part of the initiative More Cops on the Streets.

Sessions also today announced the launch of the National Gang Strategic Initiative, under the 35-year-old Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force.

The initiative “allows locally focused gang investigations” to get seed money from the task force, improving resources for state, local, and tribal investigators and prosecutors trying to spot connections between lower-level gangs and national-level drug trafficking organizations.

Sessions rounded out his announcement Thursday with the unveiling of a hotline state and local agencies can use to access federal resources.

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