Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday new initiatives to combat MS-13, the transnational drug gang that has been a major target of President Donald Trump’s criminal justice agenda.
Speaking to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Philadelphia, Sessions announced the designation of MS-13 as a focus of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF).
"They will go after MS-13 with a renewed vigor and a sharpened focus. I am announcing that I have authorized them to use every lawful tool to investigate MS-13—not just our drug laws, but everything from RICO to our tax laws to our firearms laws. Just like we took Al Capone off the streets with our tax laws, we will use whatever laws we have to get MS-13 off of our streets," Sessions said.
First established in 1982, OCDETF has been described as "the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s long-term intra- and inter-agency drug enforcement strategy." It works by unifying the variety of federal "alphabet" agencies to focus on international drug trafficking and money laundering, a mission that includes the dismantling of transnational criminal cartels. MS-13 has been designated as such since 2012.
"These task forces bring together a broad coalition of our federal prosecutors, DEA, FBI, ATF, ICE, HSI, the IRS, the Department of Labor Inspector General, the Postal Service Inspectors, the Secret Service, the Marshals Service, and the Coast Guard. And they all have one mission: to go after drug criminals and traffickers at the highest levels," Sessions said.
MS-13 has drawn significant attention from both law enforcement and the media for its often shocking, violent tactics. There are around 30,000 members worldwide, including 10,000 in the United States, according to information provided by the Justice Department. The gang was founded in Los Angeles, and now has a "large presence" in New York, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and a reach affecting 46 states.
Known for its motto "kill, rape, control," MS-13's illegal activities include drug distribution, murder, rape, prostitution, robbery, home invasions, immigration offenses, kidnapping, carjackings/auto thefts, and vandalism, according to the FBI. Members are known for their violent, retributive murders, which have included beheadings and the stabbing death of a fifteen-year-old girl.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced the arrest of 3,800 MS-13 members in a transnational gang bust that was the product of months of coordination between Sessions and his counterparts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Beyond the new focus on OCDETF, Sessions announced the awarding of a combined $3 million to several state and local law enforcement agencies through the Community Policing Development program.
"These awards will help equip our state and local partners with better training, tools, and tactics to fight crime and serve their communities. We know good professional policing works," Sessions said.
That $3 million is just the start of expected funding, with the Justice Department slated to award around $100 million across the country to help fund the hiring of more police officers, Sessions announced over the weekend.