Keeping the American people safe is government’s most important duty. After all, we can’t have a strong economy, an effective education system or a functioning democracy if it is not safe to leave your home or walk the streets of your neighborhood.
In recent years, this obligation has taken on even greater importance. From 2014 to 2016, violent crime increased by more than 8 percent nationwide, and murders spiked by 21 percent. The increase in the murder rate in 2015 was the largest one-year increase since 1968.
President Donald Trump was elected to office with a mandate from the American people to reduce crime, and he gave the Department of Justice explicit orders to work with local, tribal, state and federal law enforcement to do just that.
That is why one year ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled the department’s foundational violent crime reduction strategy: Project Safe Neighborhoods, or PSN. Built on a framework established in 2001, PSN directs our federal law enforcement and prosecutors to work in partnership with states, cities, towns and tribes to focus efforts on prosecuting the most violent criminals, dismantling dangerous criminal organizations and warding off others from following in their footsteps.
Every city and community is different, and so PSN directs our prosecutors to work with community leaders — from mayors to police chiefs to pastors — to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in their communities and determine how we can help resolve them.
I know firsthand from my experience as a prosecutor that the Project Safe Neighborhoods model works, and statistical evidence confirms it. One study showed that PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of more than 40 percent. That is a remarkable achievement. There are Americans who are alive today because this program made a difference.
Just one year after the department focused its enforcement efforts on PSN, we are beginning to see results.
During the past year, U.S. attorneys indicted the most violent criminals since the department started to keep track. We also indicted the most firearm defendants in the department’s history.
Prosecuting more violent criminals has consequences. Several weeks ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released its annual crime report, which shows that violent crime has stopped rising and actually has fallen under Trump’s leadership. And the preliminary information we have for 2018 gives us reason for continued optimism: Public data from 60 major cities show that violent crime was down by nearly 5 percent in those cities in the first six months of 2018.
It’s no wonder that law enforcement groups across America are endorsing Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress from every region of this nation have also recognized PSN’s effectiveness. Earlier this year, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan joined with Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia to author a law, later signed by the president, that funds PSN grants. Members of Congress from both parties serving on the appropriations committees provided $35 million for PSN and $50 million for next year. Department leadership will ensure that money flows directly to local partners that are the backbone of the program, including state and local law enforcement, community groups, research entities and prevention and reentry programs.
Some in the media have criticized PSN as “too tough” on gun crimes, claiming we are pursuing “low level, one-guy, one-gun” cases. These critics couldn’t be more wrong.
One of the most powerful tools available to federal prosecutors is the law that criminalizes a felon’s possession of a firearm. Under PSN, federal prosecutors use this charge against some of the most violent people in our communities — not because their possession of a firearm is the extent of their criminal conduct, but because this charge is often the most effective way to get them off our streets.
And it works. Violent criminals are put behind bars, and our communities are safer because of it. That’s not being “too tough.” It’s smart law enforcement.
The Department of Justice is committed to working with state, local and tribal law enforcement, along with the communities we serve, to reduce violent crime across the country. By customizing our strategy for every community and targeting the most dangerous criminals, PSN is helping us do just that.