Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed law enforcement officials in Louisville on Tuesday | Photo by Joe Sonka

Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed local law enforcement officials on Tuesday at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown Louisville, highlighting Department of Justice efforts to work with state and local officials across the country to combat the recent increase in violent crimes and opioid overdoses.

Noting that violent crime had steadily fallen in America for for 20 years, Sessions said that trend began to reverse from 2014 to 2016, when such crime increased by nearly 7 percent and murders shot up by more than 20 percent. At the same time, fatal overdoses have risen even faster, as the country “suffered the deadliest drug crisis in our history.”

Noting the surge in both trends, Sessions added that “sadly, Louisville knows this all too well.”

Session pointed out that Louisville’s murder rate doubled over this same two-year period, with Jefferson County reaching a record high of 120 in 2016. Meanwhile, both Kentucky and Louisville have reached record totals of fatal drug overdoses, overwhelmingly due to opioids heroin and fentanyl.

Citing local law enforcement that he had just spoken to in Louisville, Session said that much of this increase in violent crime “derives from gangs and drugs.”

Declaring that his federal department will not sit back and watch such a trend continue — and that he does not believe that the crime rate naturally goes up and down like the tides — Sessions said, “we will not cede one block, one street corner to drug dealers and criminals.”

Noting that the national murder rate increased at a significantly slower rate in the first half of 2016, Session says he wants to see enough progress in 2018 that the rate actually goes down.

Sessions said that he was impressed with the results of the Louisville Metro Intelligence task force of federal, state and local officials that was created last year to target drug and gang activity, saying that it has led to 140 arrests. He added that he wants to see longer sentences for the most dangerous criminals, as “serious criminals need to be dealt with seriously” and “we cannot go back to revolving-door justice.”

Referring to the most dangerous “alpha criminal,” Sessions said “the more of those you identify, remove from the neighborhoods, the less likely these gangs are to strengthen and grow. Maybe some of these marginal criminals will drop out of this whole criminal enterprise.”

Sessions said that he was also impressed with Project Recoil in Louisville, another multiagency partnership to charge violent offenders with the maximum sentence, adding that “I’ve seen how you’ve been able to put felons away for carrying firearms, some for 10-plus years, 15 years.”

Touting steps taken by the Department of Justice to decrease overdose deaths, Sessions cited the creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detective Unit in August, a data analytics program to assist the prosecution of individuals involved in the illegal sale and distribution of prescription opioid painkillers.

Sessions also announced that starting on Tuesday, the DEA would surge its agents over the next 45 days to focus on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs, aggregating this data “to find patterns, trends, statistical outliers, and put them into investigative packages.”

“This is a winnable war,” said Session about their efforts to combat the opioid crisis. “We can reduce the amount of addiction that starts from prescription drugs. I know we can if we work together.”

Sessions heaped praise on the law enforcement officials present and noted that President Donald Trump supported them fully, adding that “the American people appreciate you to a degree we haven’t seen in recent years.”

The attorney general closed by citing a recent poll on what children want to be when they grow up, stating that police officer improved to third and athlete dropped from first to eighth — adding “I thought that was fabulous.”

Sessions made no mention of the escalating investigation of Russia’s tampering in the 2016 election that he has recused himself from, nor his department’s scrutiny of an immigration ordinance in Louisville that it believes may be in violation of federal immigration law.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell have pushed back against this interpretation of the DOJ, stating that the ordinance codifying when city police officers will assist federal immigration agents is fully compliant with federal law.

O’Connell was traveling to Cleveland today to attend a hearing in the city’s federal lawsuit against opioid distributors, but issued a statement, “It is my hope that the Attorney General’s visit helps him to recognize that Louisville is a vibrant and receptive city that is also in compliance with federal law.”

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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