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Sessions to AGs: Crime Stats 'Driving a Sense That We're in Danger'

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the National Association of Attorneys General winter meeting this morning that his department would “prosecute police officers who do wrong,” but he also wants to beef up police departments — “and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights.”

“One of the big things out there that’s I think causing trouble and where you see the greatest increase in violence and murders in cities is somehow, some way, we undermine the respect for our police and made, often times, their job more difficult,” Sessions said. “And it’s not been well received by them and we’re not seeing the kind of effective, community-based, street-based policing that we found to be so effective in reducing crime, I think.”

He noted that the Justice Department “has an absolute duty to ensure that police operate within the law, and if they violate the law, they’ve committed a crime just as much as any other citizen who commits an assault, and we’ll do our duty” while helping “police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness.”

New California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a top-ranking House Dem before being appointed to fill the position left vacant by Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-Calif.) election, told Sessions that he agrees “when you say that people who commit crimes in this country and who have come into the country unlawfully should be out of here.”

“I hope that we’re able to continue to work together in that regard,” Becerra added. “In California, we have seen crime rates drop precipitously since the ’80s and ’90s and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento; big cities have seen that, as well. One of the reasons we believe we’re been able to succeed in bringing crime down is because we have the cooperation of folks in the — throughout the communities.”

“We need witnesses we need to have cooperate with us when crimes do occur. We are finding, though, that some of the actions that the administration is taking with regard to enforcing immigration laws is causing a lot of fear throughout our state and people who are here without documents that aren’t creating crimes, are beginning to fear approaching law enforcement authorities for fear that they may be also apprehended in the process of trying to be witnesses on crimes,” he said.

Becerra urged Sessions “to take a look at the process of how, from Washington D.C., you’d try to help us provide public safety to our people because our police and sheriff departments have developed very strong working relationships with all the neighborhoods throughout the state of California.”

Sessions noted that the Justice Department is having “some disagreements with — in certain areas of the state and local governments over detainers and those kind of things, which I think we’ve got to work through.”

“It’s just, to me, a shocking thing that we don’t have universal respect between law enforcement agencies where — where one has charges, the other turns over the offender to those, the next jurisdiction to carry out the just punishments,” the attorney general added. “But well, we’ll have to wrestle with that, its going to be a tough challenge. I understand the argument that you’ve made and we’ve heard it before, it has certain validity to it. But there are other countervailing arguments and principles that are at work.”

“So I think we will do our best to be clear and firm and fair and responsible in the positions we take. We do not need to have a big brawl between our law enforcement agencies, if we can avoid that, I would — I would be pleased.”

Sessions echoed comments by President Trump that crime stats are going to get worse and are “driving a sense that we’re in danger.”

“I do not believe, maybe I’m wrong, but I do not believe that this pop in crime, this increase in crime is necessarily an aberration, a onetime blip. I’m afraid it represents the beginning of a trend,” he said. “And I think what really concerns me in the bottom of all that is also the increase in drugs in America. So they tend to follow one another, that’s what happened in the ’60s and ’70s and I think it could happen now. So I think we all have a charge to do better.”

He said “the drug thing is big” in fighting crime.

“I, as you know, am dubious about marijuana, as states I get can pass whatever laws they choose, but I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation that if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store. I just don’t think that’s going to be good for us. And we’ll have to work our way through that,” Sessions continued.

“I was seeing a line in the Washington Post today that I remember from the ’80s. This one was, if you smoke — you know, marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse. Give me a break. I mean, you know, this is the kind of argument that has been made out there just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove I’m wrong, but at this point in time, you and I have a responsibility to use our best judgment, that which we’ve learned over a period of years and speak truth as best we can,” he added.

“My best view is that we don’t need to be legalizing marijuana and we need to crack down more effectively on heroin and fentanyl and other drugs and part of the federal leadership will be drug distribution networks, cartels that threaten the very governments of nations to our south.”