On March 8th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered all 94 federal prosecutors to prioritize violent crime, using the statutory tools at their disposal. The first two offenses listed by the Attorney General were 18 U.S.C section 922 (firearms offenses including possession and straw purchasing) and 18 U.S.C. section 924(c) (possession of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime or drug trafficking offense).
The United States Attorney’s offices were urged to identify and target the criminals responsible for violent crime in their districts, and to coordinate their efforts with their state and local counterparts.
The effort appears to be having some results. As of the second quarter of 2017, gun prosecutions are up.
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that, following the memorandum from Attorney General Sessions to prioritize firearm prosecutions, the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm increased nearly 23 percent in the second quarter of 2017 (2,637) from the same time period in 2016 (2,149).
This is an essential part of the strategy in Project Exile and similar programs. The initiatives have had some success in high crime urban areas. The second part of the strategy is building the trust of residents of high crime areas.
The Trump campaign lauded Project Exile promising to expand the program. The March order from AG Sessions was a step in that direction.
A key part of Project Exile and of AG Sessions’ order is to concentrate enforcement efforts on violent offenders. As Harvard academic David Kennedy has noted, only a tiny number of people commit most murders and people in high crime neighborhoods know who these dangerous, violent people are. The approach that Kennedy has promoted is the second half of Project Exile. Convincing the people in these communities that you’re acting to remove those that make their neighborhoods unsafe, in the hope that they will cooperate with law enforcement.
The Obama administration fraudulently implied that racist police officers were at fault in high profile situations like the Ferguson, Missouri and Trayvon Martin cases. They actually promoted measures that reduced police presence in high crime areas.
The cumulative effect of administration policies and the situation on the ground in these areas led to what was called the Ferguson Effect. When police are concerned about about being persecuted or even prosecuted for doing their job, they will do less. The result is less respect for police officers and more violent crime.
The Obama Administration has done a great deal to de-legitimize the police in black neighborhoods. The damage done by the Ferguson Effect will have to be reversed over time in order to bring violent crime and murder rates in those areas.
Eight years of attacks by the Obama administration and the establishment media will take time to overcome. Trust in the police and the criminal justice system is easily lost, and difficult to rebuild.
Targeting violent offenders in high crime areas can be effective. To do so, the police have to follow the rules. And gathering minute statistics on racial quotas that the Obama administration required did nothing to build trust. That’s accomplished by engaging community members, explaining what the police are doing, how they’re doing it and backing up those words with concrete actions.
Mere arrests under federal gun laws aren’t sufficient. If arrests are made simply to drive up statistics, the approach is doomed to fail. The arrests have to be targeted against known violent offenders and gang members, resulting in tangible improvements in problem communities. It will be months, if not years before we know if the Trump administrations’ approach is having a positive effect. Stay tuned.
©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.