(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump's new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, warned in prepared remarks Tuesday of “a dangerous new trend” of bloodshed across the U.S. and said police working to quell the violence are being “unfairly maligned.”
Crime has been falling for decades in the U.S., but Sessions in the prepared speech said there are signs of an upswing in violence.
“My worry is that this is not a ‘blip’ or an anomaly, but the start of [an upsurge] that could reverse the hard-won gains of the past four decades, gains that made America a safer and more prosperous place,” Sessions said in the remarks prepared for a conference of state attorneys general in Washington Tuesday morning.
The attorney general noted that 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.
“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,” Session said in the speech prepared for the National Association of Attorneys General conference.
He cited in the FBI statistics showing 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.
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 said. “We must remember that these data represent real neighborhoods and real people whose safety and lives are at stake.”
The former Alabama senator said that the nation’s opioid epidemic is helping to fuel gang violence in cities, with neighborhoods “caught in the crossfire.”
He also blamed 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 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.”
Sessions 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,” he 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,” he 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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