Submitted: 03/15/2017 - 6:17am
In five weeks as attorney general, Jeff Sessions has taken fire for his testimony about past meetings with Russia’s ambassador and been criticized for the abrupt removal of dozens of politically appointed U.S. attorneys around the country.
But Sessions is getting a much warmer welcome among the nation’s law enforcement community, which has largely embraced his plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases, crack down on immigration offenses and ease up on suing local police departments accused of violating minorities’ civil rights.
Sessions will further explain his plans to realign the Justice Department’s priorities on Wednesday, when he addresses a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officers in Richmond, Virginia. He can expect an enthusiastic response.
“Happily for us, on vast majority of issues, we’re on the same page,” said James Pasco, a senior adviser at the Fraternal Order of Police.
The Justice Department wouldn’t comment on what Sessions will say in Richmond. But a spokesman said his remarks will expand on a number of his recent actions, including a memo ordering a crackdown on violent crime and a speech that warned that a recent uptick in crime was “the beginning of a trend” that requires a “return to the ideas” that cut lawbreaking to historic lows since the 1990s.
In that Feb. 28 speech to state attorneys general, Sessions blamed Mexican drug cartels for a record spike in heroin overdoses and suggested that he would reverse Obama administration policies that sought to reduce the prosecutions of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders on charges that carried mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Sessions said in the speech that from 2010 to 2015, the number of gun and drug prosecutions had dropped. “This trend will end,” he said.
“Happily for us, on vast majority of issues, we’re on the same page.”
Sessions, a Republican former U.S. senator and federal prosecutor from Alabama, also signaled a new approach toward police departments accused of discriminatory policing. He said that rather than “spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court,” federal money would be better used going after criminals.
Michael Ramos, president of the National District Attorneys Association, said it was refreshing to hear Sessions promise to “get back to tough-on-crime.”
The Obama administration, Ramos said, went too far in seeking ways to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and get people out of prison. That lenience, he said, could be driving crime rates.
Lawrence Leiser, vice president for policy at the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, said his organization opposed easing up on mandatory minimum sentencing and welcomed a return to earlier approaches.
He said he viewed Sessions’ take on law enforcement as “inspiring.”