(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump's new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said Tuesday there is "a sense that we're in danger" from rising crime.
Crime has been falling for decades in the U.S., but Sessions told a conference of state attorneys general Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., "Now we are at a time, it seems to me, that crime is going back up again."
"We've done a lot of good. We need to not give up on that progress," Sessions said to the National Association of Attorneys General in his first major remarks as Justice Department head. "I do not believe that this pop in crime -- this increase in crime -- is necessarily an aberration, a one-time blip. I'm afraid it represents the beginning of a trend."
U.S. crime rates “remain near historic lows,” with murder rates half what they were in 1980 and violent crime rates cut by half since the early 1990s, according to Sessions' prepared remarks for the conference.
“But in the last two years, we’ve seen clear warning signs — like the first gusts of wind before a summer storm — that this progress is now at risk,” the prepared speech said.
FBI statistics show a 3 percent uptick in violent crime and an 11 percent increase in murders from 2014 to 2015, which are the most recent federal numbers on full-year crime rates, the prepared remarks said.
Last month, the FBI released preliminary numbers for the first half of 2016 showing a 5.3 percent increase in violent crime compared with the same period a year earlier.
“These numbers should trouble all of us,” Sessions' prepared speech said. “We must remember that these data represent real neighborhoods and real people whose safety and lives are at stake.”
The nation’s opioid epidemic is helping to fuel gang violence in cities, with neighborhoods “caught in the crossfire,” the attorney general's prepared remarks said, and a recent drop in federal prosecutions of gun and drug offenses for contributing to the rise in crime.
“Under my leadership at the Department of Justice, this trend will end,” Sessions' prepared remarks said. “Our agents and prosecutors will prioritize cases against the most violent offenders and remove them from our streets so they can no longer do us harm.”
The prepared speech also expressed concern “that something is changing in policing,” with officers “becoming more cautious” in “this age of viral videos and targeted killings of police.”
“Unfortunately, in recent years law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors,” the prepared remarks said.
Consequently, officers are “more reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the hard but necessary work of up-close policing that builds trust and prevents violent crime,” the prepared speech said.
In the prepared remarks, Sessions announced the formation of a Justice Department task force to “make sure we’re collecting good crime data” and to help reduce crime across the country. It will include senior-level representatives of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
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