Justice Department unveils new violent crime reduction effort

(Patrick Semansky/AP)

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco sent a guidance memo to federal prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and other Justice Department components addressing the recent spike in gun violence and other violent crimes. She issued the department-wide instruction in an effort to curb the recent yearlong spike in violent crime including gun violence.

“The Department is committed to addressing the epidemic of gun violence and other violent crime that has taken the lives of too many people in our communities,” wrote Monaco. “That commitment requires regular review to ensure that our approach remains effective, grounded in research, and consistent with our values. And this is an important moment for reassessment. After decades of falling sharply, preliminary statistics suggest that certain categories of violent crime increased significantly last year.”

The guidelines were issued on the same day of a mass shooting in San Jose, where a former employee killed eight people before taking his own life at a rail yard. Dozens of similar shootings have taken place in past months, most notably a 10-casualty shooting at a grocery store in Colorado, as well as a shooting spree in Atlanta targeting Asian-owned massage parlors.

Attorney General Merrick Garland formally announced the new effort in a Justice Department press release.

“Today, we renew our commitment to reducing violent crime and building strong communities where all Americans are safe,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “The Deputy Attorney General is issuing a comprehensive strategy to deploy our federal resources in the most effective way, disrupting the most dangerous threats and supporting the ground-level efforts of local law enforcement. In this endeavor, we will engage our communities as critical partners. And through our grantmaking, we will support programming at all stages — from the earliest violence interruption strategies to post-conviction reentry services.”

The newly-unveiled strategy was described by the department as “three-pronged”, outlined first with a set of four rules, listed below, that were enacted to aid in the reduction of violent crime.

  1. Build trust and earn legitimacy. Meaningful law enforcement engagement with, and accountability to, the community are essential underpinnings of any effective strategy to address violent crime, as well as important ends in themselves. Accordingly, building trust and earning legitimacy within our communities is the foundation on which the strategy is built.
  2. Invest in prevention and intervention programs. Violent crime is not a problem that can be solved by law enforcement alone. Accordingly, the Department must invest in community-based violence prevention and intervention programs that work to keep violence from happening before it occurs.
  3. Target enforcement efforts and priorities. The Department is most effective when it focuses its limited enforcement resources on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting the most significant drivers of gun violence and other violent crime.
  4. Measure results. Because the fundamental goal of this work is to reduce the level of violence in our communities, not to increase the number of arrests or prosecutions as if they were ends in themselves — we must measure the results of our efforts on these grounds.

Because the guidelines are implemented across the department, they will be used by the DOJ’s 94 US Attorney’s offices, as well as federal law enforcement agencies including the ATF, FBI, and the US Marshals Service. Also included are the DOJ’s grant-making components, including the Office of Justice Programs, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Office of Victims of Crime.

Second, the strategy strengthens the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) program, directing US Attorneys across the country to update their PSN programs according to the guidelines, specifically improving community engagement, supporting intervention programs, and developing enforcement plans along with state, local, and Tribal law enforcement.

“U.S. Attorneys should develop comprehensive Project Safe Neighborhoods strategies that address violent crime-­ including the gun violence that is often at its core,” Deputy AG Monaco wrote. “The new PSN strategies will serve as the overarching Department of Justice violent crime initiatives in each district.”

The strategy also directs US Attorney’s Offices to work with federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement, as well as community partners, to create a plan to combat spikes in violent crime — typically seen during the summer months.

The additional support, outlined below, was provided by the Department of Justice, which recognizes that “there is no one-size-fits-all solution” and that the support given to each jurisdiction will vary based on local criminal justice systems and the nature of violent crimes.

  • The FBI will make available cutting-edge analytical resources to support state and local law enforcement efforts to identify the most violent offenders and most dangerous criminal organizations in communities. The FBI will then deploy agents to assist with enforcement operations targeting these entities.
  • Where feasible, the ATF will embed with local homicide units and expand the availability of its NIBIN Correlation Center, which matches ballistics from crime scenes to other ballistic evidence nationwide.
  • The DEA will focus its efforts, in coordination with state, local, and Tribal law enforcement, to disrupt the activities of the most violent drug trafficking gangs and egregious drug-trafficking organizations operating in the highest-crime areas.
  • The United States Marshals Service, in coordination with state and local authorities, will conduct fugitive sweeps throughout the country focused on individuals subject to state or local warrants for homicide, aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated robbery, robbery with a firearm, rape or aggravated sexual assault.
  • The Department’s grantmaking components will highlight funding opportunities for community programs focused on reducing gun violence and other violent crime, share information about effective community-violence intervention programs, and provide training and technical assistance to support the violent crime reduction work of state, local, tribal, and community partners.

Lisa Monaco said that the DOJ is “charged with the responsibility of seeking justice under the law” and will strive to reduce violent crime across the country.

“It is a mission that affects not only whether people across the country are safe in their neighborhoods but also whether they have faith that we share the common goal of protecting the places we call home,” Monaco wrote. “Thank you for your continued work to achieve these goals.”

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