U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Kansas City on Thursday to discuss steps the Justice Department has taken to combat violent crime locally and across the country.
Speaking to about a dozen law enforcement officials inside the federal courthouse downtown, Sessions praised local efforts in the face of what he called rising violent crime rates.
After decades of decline, the national violent crime rate rose in 2015 for the first time since at least 1997, according to FBI statistics. The rate rose again in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.
Violent crime across Missouri has increased since 2014, Sessions said. He attributed rising crime rates in St. Louis to fewer arrests following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014.
"These numbers are troubling. I know you feel that and are concerned about it. They represent a reversal of decades of decline in crime," Sessions said. "We must take these recent developments seriously and consider carefully what we can do about them."
Kansas City last year chalked up 149 homicides, its highest total since 1993. Police have responded to 89 homicides in 2018, compared with 107 in the same period last year.
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith recently said the department is solving more homicides this year than in the past. The department's clearance rate, or cases that have resulted in arrests or otherwise been solved, is up to 74 percent, according to Smith. In 2017, the clearance rate at the end of August was 45 percent.
Sessions also announced a $1.7 million grant to the Missouri State Highway Patrol "to improve the quality and accessibility of its criminal history records."
"That will have the added benefit of improving the information available to our national firearm background check system," he said. "That, in turn, will help law enforcement officers catch wanted criminals and keep guns out of the hands of criminals. It will save lives, including police officer lives."
Sessions also promoted the work of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide Department of Justice initiative to reduce violent crime. Western Missouri received nearly $375,000 through the program this fiscal year, according to the Justice Department. Kansas got about $295,000.
Sessions said his office has hired more than 300 new federal prosecutors across the country, including four in Kansas City.
He also railed against federal judges who have blocked some of President Trump's policies, among them his travel ban and efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Sessions issued a memo today directing the Justice Department to argue that such rulings are unconstitutional.
"It is not the duty of the courts to manage this government or to pass judgment on or give final approval for every policy action the executive branch takes," Sessions said. "This makes no sense. ... The executive branch manages the government. And the president is the head of the executive branch."