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Sessions vows to press for stronger prosecution of street crime

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions says he will push federal prosecutors to put a more intense focus on prosecuting street criminals, saying the Justice Department needs to focus on rolling back a recent increase in the violent crime rate.

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would add 40 prosecutors to 20 U.S. attorney districts across the country, with instructions to team with local law enforcement to target guns, illegal drugs and the most violent offenders.

FBI statistics released last month show that violent crime rose for the second straight year, in a 4% increase from 2015. Murders increased nearly 9%, largely due to a surge in violence in Chicago; Memphis, Tenn.; San Antonio; Louisville, Ky.; and several other cities.

“We cannot be complacent or hope that this is just an anomaly,” Sessions said in a statement. “We have to take action.”

Justice said it would emphasize an existing program called Project Safe Neighborhoods, which Sessions called “the centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy,” that will use technology and stiffer federal enforcement to target the worst crime in the worst-hit cities.

The department will also try measures like prioritizing “urgent” requests for tracing guns by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. The system still uses paper records and typically takes up to a week to answer requests.

Justice has requested funding for 300 additional assistant U.S. attorneys in next year’s budget to help prosecute violent crime and immigration offenses.

In his first eight months as the nation's top lawman, Sessions has made a number of changes in department regulations and guidelines in a push to crack down on violent crime, illegal narcotics and immigration violations.

He has spoken repeatedly about the dangers of the MS-13 gang, which has ties to Central America, and pressured cities to give up “sanctuary” policies that protect immigrants in the U.S. illegally, threatening to cancel federal law enforcement grants unless they start to cooperate with immigration authorities.

As part of the crackdown, Justice will distribute $70 million in grants to the most crime-plagued cities. One of those is Chicago, which has sued the department over its sanctuary city stance.

A Justice Department official said Thursday the department hasn't decided if those grants will also be tied to immigration policies.

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