The Justice Department has picked a dozen U.S. cities for intensive assistance fighting a rash of violent crime, including murders.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the coordinated help Tuesday from various branches of the Justice Department, including federal prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys offices, agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, and officials who oversee law-enforcement-focused grants.
“Turning back the recent troubling increase of violent crime in our country is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration, as we work to fulfill the President’s promise to make America safe again,” Sessions said in statement as the Justice Department kicked off a two-day summit in Bethesda, Maryland, spotlighting strategies for cracking down on violent crime. “The Department of Justice will work with American cities suffering from serious violent crime problems."
The initial round of cities selected for the newly-created Public Safety Partnership are Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Jackson, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan, and Springfield, Illinois.
Sessions said the program is needed to address increased violence in many cities across the U.S.
"This spike in violent crime is not happening in every city in every neighborhood, but the trend is real and should concern all of us and it must not continue," the attorney general told law enforcement officials at the summit. "For many of our fellow citizens, this is literally a matter of life and death….Every American, no matter who they are, where they live, has the right to live in safe homes, in safe neighborhoods."
Sessions was introduced Tuesday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was attacked on Twitter last week by Trump. The president railed against the Justice Department No. 2 for allegedly backing the firing of FBI Director James Comey and now overseeing a special counsel probe that appears to be focusing on whether Trump’s decision to axe Comey was part of an effort to obstruct justice.
Sessions gushed over Rosenstein, telling the audience: "You know we have a great deputy attorney general."
Rosenstein used his remarks to pay tribute to law enforcement, echoing the Trump team’s view that the previous administration spent too much time focused on alleged misdeeds by the police.
"The attorney general and I understand that every time you pull a vehicle over, execute a search warrant or step out in your uniform, you face a potentially fatal situation," the deputy attorney general said. "It gives us the utmost respect for the work that you do and the for the split-second decisions that you need to make."
The attorney general took some shots at the Obama administration Tuesday, promising a "new determination" to help police and faulting the Obama team for "dangerous catch and release policies" regarding illegal immigrants.
The new partnership will include "diagnostic teams" aimed at identifying crime-fighting strategies for cities experiencing serious violent crime issues and "operations teams" that will embark on a three-year effort involving training, coaching, and increased collaboration between prosecutors, law enforcement and probation agencies.
Some cities struggling with a significant surge in murders, including Baltimore, were notably absent from the list. It was not immediately clear whether they were not invited to join or whether they were and declined to participate. Also unclear is what advantage, if any, cities that join the new partnership will have in competitive grant programs.
Asked about the selection process, a Justice Department spokesman said: "Partner sites are selected through a process that considers both quantitative and qualitative measures, in consultation with United States Attorneys and DOJ law enforcement partners. To be considered for selection, a site must have levels of violence that far exceed the national average. PSP sites must also demonstrate a commitment to reducing violent crime and be ready to receive the intensive training and technical assistance available.”
Sessions said the Justice Department will say it plans to add more cities to the Public Safety Partnership later this year.
In 2014, under the Obama administration, the Justice Department announced a similar outreach effect called the Violence Reduction Network. It involved 15 areas including Newark, New Jersey, Detroit, Michigan and Compton, California.
Cities that were part of the Obama-era program will be "grandfathered" into the new effort, a Justice spokesman said.
While the anti-crime fight is a signature issue for Trump, he’s not expected to attend the ongoing summit. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to speak to the meeting Wednesday.