News

Tight budgets can make it difficult to Sessions’ vow to fight crime

  • Friday, March 10, 2017, photo, Oakland police investigators and FBI agents are working together in the offices of the Oakland Safe Streets Task Force in Oakland, California. Standing on the left is Oakland homicide detective Jason Turner. The federal government already plays a big role in fighting violent crime in the cities, through grants and partnerships. Ten FBI agents share an office with Oakland detectives, who provide assistance to collect evidence, collect DNA, chasing leads and bringing the federal prosecution that carry long sentences in distant prisons. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    (Associated Press)

  • Friday, March 10, 2017, photo, from left, Russell Nimmo, FBI supervisory special agent, FBI-agent Paul Healy talk with Oakland police detective Brad Baker outside the offices of the Oakland Safe Streets Task Force in Oakland, California. The federal government already plays a big role in fighting violent crime in the cities, through grants and partnerships. Ten FBI agents share an office with Oakland detectives, who provide assistance to collect evidence, collect DNA, chasing leads and bringing the federal prosecution that carry long sentences in distant prisons. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    (Associated Press)

  • Friday, 10 March 2017, picture, Russell Nimmo, FBI supervisory special agent, second from left, confers with Oakland police detectives George Buford, left, and Phong Tran, right, in the offices of the Oakland Safe Streets Task Force in Oakland, California. The federal government already plays a big role in fighting violent crime in the cities, through grants and partnerships. Ten FBI agents share an office with Oakland detectives, who provide assistance to collect evidence, collect DNA, chasing leads and bringing the federal prosecution that carry long sentences in distant prisons. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    (Associated Press)

Previous
Following

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is promising his Justice Department to lead the charge in helping cities combat violent crime, and the police chiefs are ready with their wish-lists.

More technology to trace guns after shootings. More grant money. More intelligence analysts to help dismantle gangs. More protective clothing and equipment. As the head of a police officers’ union put it: “We need more of everything.”

But Sessions, who cut his teeth as a federal prosecutor in Mobile, Alabama, at the height of the drug war in the 1980s, has inherited a federal government that built themselves to the fight against terrorism since the attacks of 9/11 and, more recently, in the fight against cybercrime.

Since taking office, Sessions has repeatedly spoken about a spike in murders. He and President Donald Trump ordered the creation of a crime-fighting task force, bringing together the heads of the main agencies of law enforcement. And they seem to rely on stricter border security to stop the flow of drugs and reduce crime.

But they have not yet in detail how the federal law enforcement need to juggle priorities or provide new money for the fight against crime, in particular in the face of Trump’s plan to slash nonmilitary budgets. Some clarity could come Thursday when the administration unveils its budget proposal.

“He will find out very quickly that you can’t attract people from all these other things to do,” said Robert Anderson, the FBI, the oldest criminal investigator until his retirement in 2015. Anderson came to the office in the 1990s, when the combating violence and drugs, was the main challenge. “Now he is walking in a very different Department of Justice and the FBI.”

Kerry Sleeper, deputy director of the FBI office that works with the local police, said that after years of decline in violence, the chief of police to get a grip on a new uptick and ask for federal assistance.

What they would like to see:

— In Milwaukee, police chief Edward Flynn said he would like an extension of the work in that city by the Department of Justice Violence Reduction Network. It teams officers with deputy U. S. marshals and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Drug Enforcement Administration to target high-crime areas. “It is encouraging to have an incoming administration to take a stake in the peaks in the violence in the centre of cities,” he told The Associated Press.

— In Baltimore, which included 318 murders last year, Commissioner of Police Kevin Davis has said that he wants federal agencies to a doubling of the number of employees of cities with spikes in violence.

— In Chicago, was chosen by the White House for the increase of the shootings, the Police Inspector, Eddie Johnson has said that he would be pleased with more agents and money for the tutoring and after-school programs to help children in violent neighborhoods and, in turn, reduce crime.

Other cities want to help with the processing of evidence, the tracing of weapons and the prosecution of drug traffickers and dealers as they combat heroin and opioid addiction.

More chiefs is asking the FBI for her help in the collection of intelligence in the fight against the crime, said Stephen Richardson, deputy director of the FBI’s criminal division.

Making violent crime a priority is a departure for a Ministry of Justice, which has seen as more urgent, the prevention of cyber attacks from foreign criminals, combating terrorism and the threat of homegrown violent extremism. And while the local police say that they want more help to combat the violence, such a plan could put new pressure on the Ministry of Justice, agencies already strapped for resources.

“Our budget is eroding,” Thomas Brandon, acting ATF director, told a congressional committee last week. The ranks of the agency’s special agents on an eight-year low in fiscal year 2013 and are not grown tremendously since then.

Sessions’ focus fits with his background. His career as a prosecutor began when there was a bipartisan agreement in Washington that the best way to fight crime is with long, mandatory prison sentences. And he sees the current relatively low crime rates as a sign that this policy worked. Last week, he underscored his priority in a memo to the nation of the federal prosecutors that they should use all available resources to bring the worst offenders.

In contrast, the Obama administration, the Justice Department focused its support to the local police to improve relationships with the community.

The federal government has long played a role in the fight against crime through grants and partnerships. Agents assigned to field offices working with local police to share intelligence about gangs and shootings, hunting refugees and probe bank robbery, among other things. Constance Hester-Davis, special agent in charge of the ATF field division in New Orleans, said her agents routinely work together with local colleagues, even attending meetings.

“At the end of the day, the crime is a state and local concern,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank. “But what police chiefs say the federal government has a responsibility, especially when they prosecute.”

Such cooperation can work. Oakland, California, police saw murders fall from 126 in 2012, 85 in 2016, two years after FBI agents were embedded in the homicide unit. Ten agents share an office with Oakland detectives, who provide assistance to collect evidence, collect DNA, chasing leads and bringing the federal prosecution that carry long sentences in distant prisons. Detectives solved at least 60 percent of the cases last year, compared with about 30 percent in 2010, said Russell Nimmo, FBI supervisory special agent in the Oakland Safe Streets Task Force.

“It is very complementary to what our mission is,” Nimmo said. “We are a large organization. The challenge for our leadership is to determine how much resources to allocate to each of these competitive priorities.”

Richardson, who formed the first FBI task force in Louisiana to combat violent criminals, said the new focus means shifting resources in a way that is yet to be seen. The FBI is finalizing a strategy to “surge” resources, including agents, in certain cities this summer.

“We will not be able to view all the cities we want in a time,” Richardson said. “I believe it will make a difference.”

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular