When United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions took office in 2017, President Donald Trump gave him a simple, yet loaded order: reduce crime in America.
Speaking to a group of nearly 600 Hoosier law enforcement officers at the 2018 Indiana Law Enforcement Conference on Thursday, Sessions said the president’s directive was no small order. The year 2017 opened amid a nationwide crime surge that began in 2015 after more than 20 years of declining crime rates, Sessions said.
From 1991 to 2014, violent crime became less frequent, partially as a result of a “bipartisan, pro-law-enforcement” agenda that began in the Reagan years, the AG said. But by 2015, the national homicide rate had risen 12 percent, with violent crimes, rape, robbery and assault all seeing an uptick.
But in the first quarter of 2018, violent crime in 88 large cities declined by 6.8 percent. Similarly, the murder rate dropped by 5.5 percent, Sessions said.
“President Trump’s order to me was to reduce crime in America — not preside over ever-increasing crime rates — and that’s what we will do,” Sessions told Hoosier law enforcement officers. “And as I said before, we know that we will only be successful if we work with the 85 percent of law enforcement that serve at the state and local levels.”In Indiana, national efforts to work with state and local law enforcement are manifested in Project Safe Neighborhoods, an initiative rolled out in 2017 that combines federal and local law enforcement resources to create localized responses to violent crime. The Southern District of Indiana was one of 27 districts nationwide to receive an additional assistant U.S. attorney to focus exclusively on violent crime as part of the initiative.
In the Southern District, the strategic plan for executing Project Safe Neighborhoods has five components for combatting violent crime: leadership from U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler; partnerships at all levels of law enforcement; targeted law enforcement; prevention of additional violence, and; accountability. Northern District Attorney Thomas Kirsch II also pledged last year to create an enhanced version of PSN in his district.
“Every city, every county, every neighborhood is different,” Sessions said Thursday. “That’s why we are listening to officers like you about what works, what doesn’t, and what your community needs. We are not telling you what to do — we are listening.”
Sessions did call on Indiana law enforcement to focus on one particular area of crime: drug overdoses, which claimed more than 1,800 Hoosier lives in 2017. He specifically asked officers to focus on fentanyl, a particularly potent opioid often laced in heroin, making the drug more dangerous and, frequently, deadly.
Though Sessions said his office has called on China and Mexico to curb fentanyl production in their countries, he also asked local law enforcement to treat the drug seriously.
“We are asking for increased fentanyl sentences,” Sessions said. “Let’s all resolve that fentanyl dealers will face vigorous enforcement by law enforcement.”
Sessions ended his remarks by reaffirming his and Trump’s commitment to supporting law enforcement across the country. He made special mention of Boone County Deputy Sheriff Jacob Pickett and Terre Haute Police Officer Robert Pitts, both of whom were fatally shot in the line of duty this year.
“Both of these officers — Deputy Pickett and Officer Pitts — exemplify what it means to be a law enforcement officer,” Sessions said. “And their tragic deaths show the dangers that officers like you face every day.”
Though his scripted remarks did not include political comments, the AG used his Indianapolis speech to offer his support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling criticism of the agency “foolish and duplicitous.”
“Whatever you do to enforce the law, this bunch opposes,” he said of ICE critics.
The Attorney General was met with standing ovations before and after his address, with whistles heard in the crowd as he took the stage. He did not take any questions from either law enforcement or media after his remarks, but he did shake hands with a few people in the audience as he left.