BETHESDA, Md. – Seeking to combat disparate spikes in violent crime across the country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday a 12-city partnership in which the federal government would provide additional training and crime data analysis to troubled communities.
The strategy, an extension of President Trump's executive order aimed at reducing crime, features a three-year program of instruction for the select cities aimed at better coordinating the efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement operations.
Sessions' announcement at a national gathering of law enforcement officials just outside Washington did not appear to include any new government funding.
Citing surges in violence in 2015 that appeared to continue into last year, Sessions said America's urban areas were most at risk.
"This spike in violent crime is not happening in every neighborhood or city,'' Sessions said. "But the trend is real and should concern us all. It must not continue.''
Violent crime and its links to drugs, guns and illegal immigration has been a primary focus of the Sessions Justice Department, even as the attorney general and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have sought to defend themselves for their roles in last month's abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.
The firing has prompted allegations that Trump dismissed the director to derail the FBI's wide-ranging investigation into possible collusion between the president's campaign and Russian officials during the presidential election, which is now run by a special counsel.The U.S. intelligence community has accused Moscow of orchestrating a high-level campaign of cyberattacks and fake news to influence the election.
Last week, Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee that any suggestion that he himself participated in collusion is "an appalling and detestable lie."
On Tuesday, the attorney general was speaking to a friendlier audience, pledging Justice's support to local law enforcement authorities.
"This Department of Justice will join with you with a new determination,'' he said.
The first communities to participate in the new program are:
Baton Rouge, La.
Kansas City, Mo.
In Birmingham, where murders have surged in the past two years after a near-record low in 2014, police Chief A.C. Roper is looking for answers.
"Something happened,'' Roper said, adding that domestic violence and retaliatory shootings in troubled neighborhoods pushed the number of killings from 51 in 2014 to 92 last year.
At the same time, Roper said the community was struggling to contain the heroin trade and addiction.
"Some of what we are seeing are people in very challenged neighborhoods who so distrust the criminal justice system that they are taking matters into their own hands.'' Roper said.