The Justice Department unveiled a new strategy on Wednesday to combat violent crime, with an official arguing the Trump DOJ’s Operation Legend approach was insufficient. This comes as the department reports a significant nationwide increase in major violent crimes, including murders, over the past year.
“Today, we renew our commitment to reducing violent crime and building strong communities where all Americans are safe,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “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 grant-making, we will support programming at all stages — from the earliest violence interruption strategies to post-conviction reentry services.”
Lisa Monaco, deputy attorney general, released a DOJ-wide memo to confirm that “after decades of falling sharply, preliminary statistics suggest that certain categories of violent crime increased significantly last year.”
“We have faced a national public health emergency that put people out of work, closed schools, created pressures at home, limited social services, impacted criminal justice systems, and generally disrupted social activity,” she said. “We have seen civil unrest as people question the legitimacy of our institutions and the role of law enforcement in society.”
Monaco added: “We cannot be effective in guarding the safety of our communities without their confidence in police and policing. And we know that violent crime is not a problem that can be solved by law enforcement alone.”
Monaco argued the most effective enforcement occurs when resources are focused on “identifying, investigating, and prosecuting the most significant drivers of violent crime.”
In an apparent bit of expectation setting, she added: “This strategic enforcement approach may not result in an increase in the raw number of arrests, prosecuted cases, or convictions, but it will improve public safety consistent with our values — the true measure of success.”
The Justice Department said its new strategy “establishes a set of four fundamental principles” to be applied across the department “to guide violent crime reduction.”
The first is to “build trust and earn legitimacy.” The DOJ contends “meaningful law enforcement engagement with, and accountability to the community are essential underpinnings of any effective strategy to address violent crime.”
The second is to “invest in prevention and intervention programs” because “violent crime is not a problem that can be solved by law enforcement alone.”
The third principle aims to “target enforcement efforts and priorities” because the DOJ 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.”
And the fourth seeks to “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.”
The FBI says the estimated number of murders in the nation was 16,425 in 2019, with a huge jump the following year. In March, the New York Times reported that “the big increase in the murder rate in the United States in 2020 has carried over to 2021.” The outlet said a sample of 37 cities with available data for the first three months of 2021 “shows murder up 18 percent relative to the same period last year.” The FBI’s preliminary data, which will not be finalized until September, showed “a major increase in murder last year, with a 25 percent rise in agencies that reported quarterly data.” If true, that 25% increase in murders last year “would mean the United States surpassed 20,000 murders in a year for the first time since 1995.”
Nationwide unrest unleashed last year after George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died on May 25, 2020, after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him down by placing a knee on his neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd and onlookers called on the police to stop. Chauvin, 45, was found guilty in April on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter.
Footage of Floyd’s death in police custody set off a wave of outrage, leading to protests in major cities across the nation — many of which became violent as protesters rioted, looted stores, destroyed property, burned buildings, and clashed with police. Rioting in Minneapolis resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with many destroyed buildings never replaced. The Black Lives Matter movement helped lead the protests in the U.S. and worldwide, with calls to “defund the police.”
During a call with reporters Wednesday, one DOJ official said the department's leadership “isn’t interested in pursuing raw statistics like arrests and prosecutions as if they were the end in themselves.” Rather, the official noted, “the ultimate goal of what we’re trying to do is to reduce the level of violent crime in our communities,” but “that may not mean that the most effective enforcement plan is to just bring every single particular charge in a particular category.”
Another official seemed to critique the Trump DOJ’s Operation Legend efforts.
“What we’re seeing now is across the country, these preliminary statistics are suggesting that there are significant increases over the past year throughout the country, which suggests national-level causes as opposed to something specific that’s happening in the cities,” the DOJ official said. “And so we need to respond to that with a national response, not a Legend-type response where we’re picking some handful of cities to send significant resources to.”
During his last days in office just before Christmas, then-Attorney General William Barr touted Operation Legend: an anti-crime operation named for four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept in late June. The effort surged DOJ resources and investigators to Kansas City, Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Memphis, and Indianapolis beginning in July of last year. The Justice Department said since Operation Legend’s start in July, they've made “over 6,000 arrests — including approximately 467 for homicide.”
The Justice Department also said Wednesday its strategy included enhancing the Project Safe Neighborhoods program by “directing all U.S. Attorneys across the country to update their PSN programs to be aligned with the Department’s guiding principles to improve community engagement, support proven community-violence intervention programs, develop strategic enforcement plans in coordination with state, local, and Tribal law enforcement partners as well as community groups, and measure the effectiveness of these collective efforts to reduce violence.”
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