- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive Thursday that refocuses federal prosecutors on violent crime cases and requires each U.S. Attorney’s Office to develop a localized plan that targets areas plagued by the most violence.

The Justice Department will “reinvigorate” the Project Safe Neighborhoods programs first developed in 2001, and require its federal prosecutors to provide feedback every six months on their progress.

As part of the plan, U.S. Attorneys will be asked to collaborate with local law enforcement agencies to “identify the most violent locations in each district, focus enforcement efforts on the offenders driving violent crime in those areas, and ensure that they are prosecuted in the jurisdiction that will provide the most immediate and appropriate sanction,” according to Mr. Sessions memo on the plan.

Officials say the Project Safe Neighborhood concept was successful in reducing violent crime in the past, but become less of a priority during the Obama administration. They point to a Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice study from 2009 that found the prior iteration of the program helped reduce violent crime by 4 percent, with crime reductions of up to 42 percent in specific jurisdictions.

The Justice Department announcement comes as after the FBI released data this year that shows violent crime rose by 4.1 percent in 2016, and homicides by 8.6 percent. The increases mark the second year in a row that violent crime has increased, and the total number of homicides reported marks the most killings in a single year since 2006.

“We cannot be complacent or hope that this is just an anomaly: We have a duty to take action,” Mr. Sessions said in an announcement about the program.
Critics of initiatives put forth by the Trump administration to get a handle on violent crime say the upticks are mostly regional, and do not represent a new national crime wave.

Justice Department officials said the Project Safe Neighborhoods program offered a localized response to the violent crime problem — instructing prosecutors to develop a unique plan for each U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In addition to targeted enforcement in locations most effected by violent crime, the program also instructs prosecutors to develop partnerships with local law enforcement agencies and to promote prevention efforts that keep kids away from crime and lower recidivism rates of prior offenders.

The Justice Department also announced a number of other initiatives meant to support the violent crime strategy, including the addition of 40 federal prosecutors who will focus solely on violent crime cases in 20 jurisdictions, and changes in gun tracing priorities, and additional funding for gang investigations.

The DOJ has instructed the ATF to prioritize gun tracing for any firearms linked to a shooting incident. Whereas a trace to figure out who originally purchased the firearm usually takes around five days, officials said any guns that have a “hit” in the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network will jump to the front of the line and be traced within 24 hours.

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