Sessions decries Oklahoma's homicide, overdose death rates - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Sessions decries Oklahoma's homicide, overdose death rates

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association. (DOJ via Twitter) Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association. (DOJ via Twitter)

MIDWEST CITY, Okla. (AP) -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended his agency's civil asset forfeiture program and decried the rising number of homicides and opioid deaths nationwide during a speech before dozens of Oklahoma sheriffs and law enforcement officers.

Sessions was the keynote speaker Thursday during a meeting of the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association in Midwest City.

Sessions also voiced concern over efforts to reduce federal sentences and cited statistics showing a recent increase in violent crime nationwide. He says Oklahoma's murder rate jumped 40 percent from 2014 to 2016, while the number of overdose deaths in Oklahoma spiked by nearly 70 percent over the last decade.

The head of the Oklahoma Sheriff's Association and some Republican lawmakers who spoke at Thursday's event vowed to oppose legislative efforts next year to reduce certain criminal penalties.

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Full text of the attorney general's prepared remarks as provided by the Department of Justice:

Thank you, Jonathan for that introduction, and, more importantly, thank you for your leadership with the National Sheriffs Association.

I also want to thank Lieutenant Governor Lamb, my friend Congressman Cole—and our U.S. Attorneys for being here. All three of Oklahoma’s U.S. Attorneys are here: Mark Yancey, from the Western District, Brian Kuester of the Eastern District, and Trent Shores from the Northern District. Brian and Trent were just confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September: congratulations.

I am here on behalf of President Trump to thank all of our law enforcement officers for their dedication and service. President Trump ran for office as a law-and-order candidate; now he is governing as a law-and-order president. He is a proud and unequivocal supporter of law enforcement.

I know firsthand the important work that each of you do. I was a federal prosecutor for 14 years, and during that time, I was blessed to partner every day with federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to protect the rights of all individuals.

There is nothing I am more proud of than what we accomplished in our district.

I know that each of you has that same kind of impact in your communities.

But today we are fighting a multi-front battle: an increase in violent crime, a rise in vicious gangs, an opioid epidemic, threats from terrorism, combined with a culture in which family and discipline seem to be eroding further and a disturbing disrespect for the rule of law.

After decreasing for nearly 20 years because of the hard but necessary work our country started in the 1980s, violent crime is back with a vengeance. In 2016, the nationwide homicide rate increased by another 7.9 percent, resulting in a total surge of more than 20 percent since 2014. Not a little matter.

As homicide deaths have gone up, drug overdose deaths have gone up even faster. Preliminary data show that more than 60,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016.

Not only is that the highest drug-related death toll in our history, but it is also the fastest increase in drug deaths we’ve ever seen. That’s more than the population of Midwest City—dead in just one year. For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

Oklahoma isn’t immune to these problems. This wonderful state suffered a 40 percent increase in murders between 2014 and 2016, and the number of drug overdose deaths has surged by more than 67 percent in the last decade.

And yet, despite the national surge in violent crime and the record number of drug deaths over the last two years, there is a move to even lighter sentences. We must be careful here. Federal prison population is down 15 percent - the average sentence is down 19 percent. Crime is up.

Sometimes it is prudent to review sentences and determine if some might be too harsh or too light. For example, I led the effort with my then-colleague Senator Durbin to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100 to 1 all the way down to 18 to 1. That was the right thing to do.

But I'm afraid we don’t have a sentencing problem; we have a crime problem. If we want to bring down our prison population then we should bring down crime.

So what should we do? What has been proven to work?

In 1984 I had been a federal prosecutor for six years when Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act. This law instituted mandatory minimum sentences, sentencing guidelines, truth in sentencing, and ended federal parole. I was a prosecutor before this law, and I was a prosecutor after it went into effect. It’s clear to me that it worked. We saw crime rates cut in half, neighborhoods revitalized, and general law and order restored on our streets.

Why did it work? Most people obey the law. They have no desire to inflict violence on their neighbors or traffick deadly drugs to suffering addicts. They want to be safe. No, most crimes are committed by a relatively few number of criminals. Putting them behind bars makes us safer.

Experienced law enforcement officers like you understand that.

You are the thin blue line that stands between law-abiding people and criminals. You protect our families, our communities, and our country from drugs and violence. Every American benefits from that work, and the vast majority of our country appreciates what you do.

But some would undermine this support by portraying law enforcement officers as the enemy.

But we’ve seen a shocking and unacceptable level of violence toward police officers in this country.

Earlier this week, the FBI released its annual report on violence against police officers. The report showed a more than 60 percent increase last year in the number of officers feloniously killed in the line of duty. It also shows a 14 percent increase in the number of officers assaulted on duty. According to the report, 150 officers were assaulted every day on average last year.

Sadly, the violence has continued. In August, six officers were shot across the country in a single night. Just a few weeks before, Officer Miosotis Familia, a 12-year veteran of the NYPD and mother of three, was gunned down in cold blood by an assassin while sitting in her police van. She was just doing her job.

Oklahoma has already lost five law enforcement officers this year. Officer Justin Terney of the Tecumseh Police Department lost his life after being shot during a routine traffic stop. Deputy Sheriff David Wade from the Logan County Sheriff’s Office was serving an eviction notice when a man opened fire on him.

We also remember Corporal Stephen Jenkins of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Officer Nathan Graves of the Sac and Fox Nation Police, and Lieutenant Heath Meyer of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, who also lost their lives on duty this year.

We pray for our lost brothers and sisters, we do all we can to support their grieving family and friends, and we vow to do all in our power to further our resolve to protect, respect, and preserve law enforcement.

At Officer Familia’s funeral, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said it well: “cops are regular people who believe in the possibility of making this a safer world. That’s why we run toward danger, when others run away.”

You deserve the support and respect of every American, and I’m here today on behalf of President Trump and the Department of Justice to say thank you. I am proud to stand with you. The Department of Justice is proud to stand with you. We have your back. We understand one thing, criminals are the problem, law officers are the solution.

And this President stands with you – not just rhetorically – but in thought, word, and deed.

President Trump sent the Department of Justice three executive orders after I was sworn in. He sent us the ‘back the blue’ order to support our law enforcement at all levels. The second made it our objective to “reduce crime” across the country. And the third requires us to dismantle transnational criminal organizations. We embrace those charges.

And when we fulfill his first order—by supporting you—we also fulfill our second order—reducing crime.

In order to fulfill these important goals set by our President, I changed the charging policy for our federal prosecutors, trusting them once again and directing them to once again charge the most serious, readily provable offense.

Further, I ordered our prosecutors to focus on taking illegal guns off of our streets. Since then, we have seen a 23 percent increase in the number of criminals charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. That makes all of us safer—especially law enforcement officers conducting searches and arrests and going into dangerous situations.

Since the beginning of the year, the Department has secured convictions against more than 1,200 members of gangs, cartels, and their subsidiaries.

We know that you are our strongest ally, our greatest resource, and you deserve our support.

That’s why, in July, we reinstituted our equitable sharing program: so that criminals will not be permitted to profit from their crimes. As you know well, civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed. It weakens the criminals and the cartels. Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement. In departments across this country, funds that were once used to take lives are now being used to save lives.

For this program to be effective we need public confidence; we need a strong leadership tone and closer coordination of forfeiture activities at all levels of the Department. That’s why, earlier this week, I directed Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to appoint a Director of Asset Forfeiture Accountability to oversee all aspects of the Department's asset forfeiture program to ensure no errors or overreach.

I want this director to begin work immediately on priority initiatives and recommendations like modernizing the National Asset Forfeiture Strategic Plan, updating the Asset Forfeiture Program's policy guidance and implementing a simpler reporting structure.

I believe it is important to have senior level accountability in the Department of the day-to-day workings of the asset forfeiture program as well as senior-level authority to ensure that this program continues—in an accountable and responsible way—to help law enforcement officers do their jobs.

Helping law enforcement do their jobs, helping the police get better, and celebrating the noble, honorable, essential and challenging work of our law enforcement communities will always be a top priority of President Trump and this Department of Justice. We will always seek to affirm the critical and historic role of sheriffs in our society and we will not participate in anything that would give the slightest comfort to radicals who promote agendas that preach hostility rather than respect for police.

And so, once again, I want to thank you all for answering the call to serve and protect our country.

We have your back and you have our thanks.

Thank you, and God bless you.


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