The Department of Justice announced Thursday the reinvigoration of a Bush-era program to help combat growing violent crime in America.
A recommitment to Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) will be the "centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press release announcing the administration's new move.
First implemented under former President George W. Bush, PSN involves deploying taskforces to all 50 states to address violence through "enforcement, deterrence and prevention." Central to its strategy is increased federal prosecutions of gun crime—such prosecutions have already increased 23 percent under Sessions. PSN also uses increased police patrols, neighborhood development, and education and reentry programs to combat violence.
One 2009 study from the National Institute of Justice suggested that PSN did contribute to violent crime reduction in cities where it was implemented. Those cities saw an average drop in violent crime rate of 4.1 percent, as opposed to cities without PSN, which saw only a 0.9 percent drop. Sessions noted that the program reduced crime by as much as 42 percent in some locations.
PSN waned under the Obama administration. As Rep. David Reichert (R., Wash.) noted in an op-ed, "in total, $86 million was awarded in grants [through PSN] between 2010 and 2015, but only $4 million was awarded [in 2016]. This stands in stark contrast to the $133 million that was awarded to law enforcement agencies through the program from 2005 to 2009."
In a memo to United States attorneys, Sessions made clear his intent to reverse this trend. He instructed the U.S. attorneys to "implement an enhanced violent crime reduction program that incorporates the lessons learned since the original program's launch in 2001 and leverages new strategies to help turn the tide against violent crime."
The Justice Department also announced a number of other initiatives intended to combat violent crime. These included: allocating an additional 40 prosecutors to focus on violent crime; an increase in law enforcement hiring grants; funding for local gang investigations; expanded training and technical assistance to local and state partners; and centers for applying new technology to gun crime.
Sessions' announcement comes amid spiking violent crime in America. The latest version of the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) showed an increase in violent crime for the second year in a row, a 3.4 percent increase in violent crime including an 8.2 percent increase in the murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate. The increase was nationwide, with violent crime going up in 38 out of 50 states, in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.
"According to the FBI, the violent crime rate has risen by nearly seven percent over the past two years, and the homicide rate has risen by more than 20 percent. We cannot be complacent or hope that this is just an anomaly: we have a duty to take action," Sessions said.
"Fortunately, we have a president who understands that and has directed his administration to reduce crime. The Department of Justice today announces the foundation of our plan to reduce crime: prioritizing Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program that has been proven to work," he said.