MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Tough talk Thursday morning in Memphis in a speech by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He promised bulked up federal enforcement in cutting down on violent crime, gangs, and drugs, all issues facing Memphis.
The Attorney General promised to use every lawful tool at the federal level to take violent and large narcotic offenders off the streets. Memphis officials hope the AG’s visit will mean more federal money, and manpower, for the city and Shelby County’s law enforcement.
Sessions didn’t come to Memphis to sugarcoat the city’s record number of 228 homicides last year, a 42% spike compared to 2015. The number of homicides in Memphis stands at 84 in 2017. That’s slightly lower compared to the 91 homicides for the same period last year.
In a 20-minute speech, Sessions repeatedly referenced crime challenges in the bluff city, including the seven homicides at the Sycamore View apartments since 2014.
“These aren’t just numbers, these are people, our citizens,” said Sessions. “You right here in Memphis have experienced the violent crime surge.”
The AG staunchly defended his recent order to federal prosecutors, to go after the most serious charges and longest prison sentences for certain offenders.
“This means we are going to meet our responsibility to advance public safety and enforce the laws of this country with judgment and fairness,” said Sessions. “We are going to use every lawful tool that we can to take the most violent offenders off our streets.”
Sessions argued the order isn’t intended to fill federal prisons with small-time, non-violent drug dealers.
“These are criminals with large amounts of drugs, a kilogram of heroin, that’s 1000 doses,” said Sessions. “We’ve got to be realistic. Imprisonment, unfortunately is a part of what is needed.”
Sessions said the criminal crackdown, especially against drugs, is necessary considering the opioid epidemic nationally, and locally.
“You are seeing some of that right here in Memphis and Shelby County where heroin-related deaths have skyrocketed 800 percent in five years.”
Memphis-area law enforcement leaders met with the Attorney General in separate meetings throughout the day, asking him for federal cash to boost crime fighting manpower.
Earlier this month, Sessions mentioned Memphis by name as he rattled off cities with violent crime issues.
“I think he is sincere in wanting to help us,” said Shelby County Attorney General Amy Weirich. “He has mentioned us in national speeches that he has given, and the crime rate and the obstacles that we have.”
In his proposed budget, President Trump also requested 230 more U.S. Attorneys nationwide.
“Our problems are gangs, guns, and drugs, and you heard the attorney general speak about that,” said MPD Director Mike Rallings.
In addition to meeting with prosecutors and police, Sessions also sat down with Memphis pastors.