Barr: Detroit to get aid under Trump administration effort targeting violent crime

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is among seven in the nation getting support from the Trump administration under a new initiative targeting violent crime, U.S. Attorney William Barr said.

The effort will commit $71 million toward the battle against drug trafficking, street gangs and other violent crime in a handful of cities, including Detroit, which has the highest rate per capita in the country.

The country's top attorney laid out the strategy for the Trump administration's Operation Relentless Pursuit on Wednesday during an afternoon news conference in the U.S. Attorney's offices downtown. 

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announces Operation Relentless Pursuit, a new federal initiative to reduce violent crime in Detroit and six other cities, Wednesday in Detroit.

"Fighting violent crime is one of the primary priorities of this administration," Barr said. "In a number of cities, it's a stubborn problem."

Others to benefit from the partnership will be Memphis, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Albuquerque, said Barr, who made the announcement alongside Detroit police Chief James Craig and leaders of the FBI, ATF, DEA and U.S. Marshals Service. 

For Detroit, there's been progress in recent years. Since 2014, there have been 107 indictments for individuals involved in violent street gangs. Overall, the rate of violent crime is down 14% from 2014 to 2018, Craig said.

Despite the "consistent progress," the city's starting point for the level of violence surpassed others, and it's "still higher than the national average," Barr said. 

"I'm not going to sit here and wave a flag of success," Craig told reporters. "We must do better, and we will do better."

The Trump administration initiative will call upon federal partners to assist local law enforcement in Detroit and the other identified cities, establishing new task forces to track down the most violent offenders, officials said Wednesday. 

The program is expected to build on the Justice Department’s successful Project Safe Neighborhoods, which encouraged community-based solutions to violent crime. 

Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaks to the news media after U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a new federal initiative to reduce violent crime. "We must do better, and we will do better,"
 Craig said.

It also will complement Project Guardian and Disruption and Early Engagement Program, or DEEP, agency initiatives focused on reducing gun crime and preventing mass shootings, Barr has said. 

Barr's appearance in Detroit comes the same day that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were rallying in Michigan and the Democratic-controlled U.S. House prepared to vote on articles of impeachment targeting the president.

Under Trump's tenure, violent crime rates across the country have dropped, Barr said, following an increase between 2014 and 2016. But there's recently been a nationwide increase of about 4%, he added.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday that violent crime still plagues many communities. 

"Those of us in law enforcement cannot rest while any Americans live in fear in their own homes and their own neighborhoods," he said.

Wray said the FBI's focus is going after the leadership of gangs and criminal enterprises.

Under the initiative, he said, agents and personnel will be reassigned to cities getting aid to "take the worst offenders off the streets" and "cripple their organizations."

Barr on Wednesday said the funding being allocated for the project could mean another 400 police officers nationwide. Officials have not yet determined the specific resources being deployed in each city, nor how much of the funding they will get. But Barr said he expects the distribution will be fairly even.

The DEA intends to target violent drug trafficking operations and the U.S. Marshals Service on locating and apprehending the most dangerous fugitives and criminals, officials said. 

"In our nation, people should not feel safe, they should actually be safe in their pursuit of life's endeavors," said Donald Washington, director of the marshals service. 

Barr also fielded questions Wednesday about Inspector General criticism and FBI reforms involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court amid an FBI investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign.

He said the court is "critical" and officials have worked "hand-in-hand to change procedures."