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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Focuses On Violent Crime And Police Morale

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at his swearing in earlier this month. He said Monday he will focus on issues such as violent crime and police morale.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at his swearing in earlier this month. He said Monday he will focus on issues such as violent crime and police morale.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to devote federal resources to combat violent crime and to shore up morale across the nation's police departments, on Monday in his first on-the-record briefing as the top U.S. law enforcement officer.

"I'm already hearing from state and local people that they're concerned about a lack of federal support and leadership" in the face of rising murder rates in some major cities, Sessions told reporters at the Justice Department. "My judgment is this is not a blip and we're seeing, I'm afraid, a longer term trend of violent crime going up, which is not what we want in America."

He vowed more consistent prosecution of criminals who carry guns in the course of their crimes, insisting that approach will rid the streets of dangerous people responsible for a spike in violence in some major cities. Criminologists report the overall U.S. violent crime rate remains near record lows, historically.

"If they know they're going to get popped, they're going to federal court, they'll get five years and probably get sent off" far away from their homes, Sessions added.

He praised police and sheriffs' deputies as "front-line soldiers" in the mission to protect public safety and worried about poor morale and a lack of community engagement in some areas.

Sessions also addressed a number of ongoing cases and controversies.

*Sessions said he was "not aware" before news reports last week of communications between White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe about the bureau's ongoing investigation into possible contacts between people with ties to President Trump and Russia. "The FBI and the Department of Justice have to remain independent and they will do so," Sessions said. "But every contact is not improper."

*After congressional Democrats called on Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his campaign work for Trump, he told reporters Monday "I would recuse myself on anything I should recuse myself on. That's all I can tell you."

*He said he had not read the Obama Justice Department's scathing reports on unconstitutional policing practices in Ferguson, Mo., or in Chicago, reasoning that he found the summaries "pretty anecdotal." Sessions said he had not yet decided whether his civil rights division would proceed to negotiate a court-enforceable consent decree with police in Chicago after Obama-era findings there, or abandon the effort.

*He repeated his disdain for drugs, including marijuana. "I don't think America is going to be a better place when more people are smoking pot," he said. Sessions said he was studying an Obama-era memo that sets out priorities for federal prosecution in states which have legalized the drug in some form. The attorney general said he met Monday with his counterpart in the state of Nebraska, who expressed concerns about a "big overflow" of marijuana from Colorado, where the drug is legal. "I'm definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana," he said.

*Responding to a spate of bomb threats and and abasements of Jewish centers and cemeteries, Sessions called it "unacceptable behavior" in a diverse nation and said "this Department of Justice will do whatever it can to assist in pushing back on that and prosecuting anybody who's a part of it."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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