The Justice Department announced Thursday it was ramping up its effort to fight a rise in violent crime by boosting personnel and police grants, and by putting a new focus on the Project Safe Neighborhoods program from 2001.
"According to the FBI, the violent crime rate has risen by nearly 7 percent over the past two years, and the homicide rate has risen by more than 20 percent," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "We cannot be complacent or hope that this is just an anomaly: we have a duty to take action. Fortunately, we have a president who understands that and has directed his administration to reduce crime."
As part of the Justice Department's efforts, the agency will allocate 40 assistant U.S. attorneys to roughly 20 U.S. Attorney's Offices, where they will focus on reducing violent crime.
The Justice Department is awarding $98 million in grants this fiscal year through its COPS Hiring Program, which aims to "preserve jobs, increase community policing capacities and support crime prevention," according to the agency's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Sessions also said the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs is rolling out an initiative designed to serve as a "hot line" to link stakeholders at the state and local level with federal resources, and is expanding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) Urgent Trace Program.
Under that program, which will be expanded nationwide by the end of the year, a firearm submitted to ATF for tracing that receives a "hit" in the database will be deemed an "urgent" trace, which will allow people seeking information about that weapon to get it faster.
While the process for transmitting information back to the requester can take up to six business days, that time will be cut to 24 hours under the NIBIN Urgent Trace Program, the Justice Department said.
The Justice Department also awarded grants to Phoenix and Kansas City, Mo., to "create and sustain" Crime Gun Intelligence Centers that produce information related to law enforcement efforts on identifying criminal activity and the most violent offenders.
The department also unveiled the National Gang Strategic Initiative. Under that initiative, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces will provide "seed money" to gang investigations conducted at the local level, which the goal of helping law enforcement agencies identify ties between lower-level gangs and large drug-trafficking organizations.
Sessions also announced the Justice Department would revamp "Project Safe Neighborhoods." The program, started in May 2001, aimed to reduce gun and gang crime, according to the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
But the department said the program waned over the years. Now, as violent crime has increased, the agency decided it needed to refocus attention on Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Sessions issued a memo to all U.S. attorneys Thursday instructing them to implement a program designed to reduce violent crime that builds on Project Safe Neighborhoods' successes in the years since its launch more than 15 years ago.
"We can never cede a single neighborhood, block, or street corner to violent criminals," Sessions wrote in the memo. "By strengthening PSN, we take an important step in restoring safety and security to our communities."