Memphis among 7 cities targeted for Justice Dept. crackdown on violent crime



DETROIT — The Justice Department announced a crackdown Wednesday aimed at driving down violent crime in seven of the nation’s most violent cities.

Attorney General William Barr released details of the initiative known as Operation Relentless Pursuit at a news conference in Detroit alongside the leaders of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service.

As part of the initiative, the Justice Department will intensify federal law enforcement resources in the seven cities — Detroit; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Baltimore; Cleveland; Kansas City; Memphis, Tennessee; and Milwaukee — that have violent crime rates higher than the national average.

“Fighting violent crime is one of the priorities of this administration,” Barr said. “In a number of cities it’s a stubborn problem. The federal government can’t attack this problem alone. It depends on collaboration with state and local partners.”

The Justice Department will increase the number of federal law enforcement officers in each of the cities and add additional officers to federal task forces. The department is also committing up to $71 million in federal grant funds that can help fund the task forces, be used to hire new officers, pay overtime and purchase new equipment and technology.

The federal law enforcement agencies will work with local and state investigators to target violent criminals, members of drug cartels and gun traffickers by utilizing federal resources and intelligence. Agents will also utilize the ATF’s national database known as NIBIN, or the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, which can help match images of bullet cases collected at crime scenes to link shootings.

Targeting violent crime has been a top priority for the Justice Department, Barr and President Donald Trump.

Barr, an ardent backer of law enforcement, was known for a tough-on-crime approach in his previous stint as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer in the early 1990s as the national violent crime rate peaked. Those efforts, he has said, helped seriously cut violent crime.

Since he became attorney general in February, Barr has vowed to use the federal government’s resources to drive down violent crime in cities where the crime rate has been rising, and has made prosecuting violent criminals and gun offenders a priority for federal prosecutors.

Still, Barr has also embraced a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure known as the First Step Act, which gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders, eases mandatory minimum sentences and encourages inmates to participate in programs designed to reduce the risk of recidivism, with credits that can be used to gain an earlier release.

He acknowledged that Detroit Police Chief James Craig and his officers have “done a great job” in bringing down the city’s violent crime rate.

Craig, also at the news conference, said overall violence in Detroit fell by about 14% from 2014 to 2018.

Homicides have dropped from just over 300 in 2016 to 267 two years ago to about 260 in 2018 — the lowest number in Detroit in 50 years.

“I’m not going to sit here and wave a flag of success,” Craig said. “We know there is more work to do.”


Balsamo reported from Washington, D.C.