President Donald Trump signed three executive actions Thursday designed to crack down on violence in America, directing the Department of Justice to take ‘‘all necessary action and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels’’ and to form task forces focused on reducing violent crime and crime against police.
Trump has long held a pessimistic view of how safe people are in the U.S., declaring in his inaugural address that the ‘‘American carnage’’ would stop with his presidency. As his new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was sworn in Thursday, Trump said he was signing the executive actions to ‘‘restore safety in America.’’
But Trump has, in the past, misstated crime statistics or not presented them in the proper context, presenting a somewhat bleaker view than perhaps is warranted. He has accurately cited a statistic from the Brennan Center for Justice, which found that, in the largest 30 cities, homicides increased by 14 percent from 2015 to 2016. But in that data set, one outlier city - Chicago - was responsible for 43.7 percent of the total increase in homicide rates in 2016.
The latest FBI data show a more than 10 percent increase in murder and non-negligent manslaughter from 2014 to 2015. But the murder rate is down even from as recently as 2009, and it has been declining - with a few upward blips - since the height of the crack epidemic in the early 1990s.
Nonetheless, Sessions said in his own remarks that America had ‘‘a crime problem,’’ and it was no mere anomaly.
‘‘I wish the rise that we are seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip,’’ he said. ‘‘My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous, permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk. We will deploy the talents and abilities of the Department of Justice in the most effective way possible to confront this rise in crime and to protect the people of our country.’’
Sessions mentioned violent crime in his remarks even before terrorism, indicating just how high a priority it might become in his Justice Department. It is unclear, though, what exactly Trump’s task forces will do. The White House did not immediately provide the full text of the executive actions he signed, and a spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment. Law enforcement is generally a local matter, though federal authorities work with local police departments and others on task forces throughout the country. Last month, Trump said he might send ‘‘the feds’’ to Chicago to deal with the city’s violence; officials noted that, in a variety of ways, they already had been working there.
Trump said one of the task forces will be focused specifically on the problem of violence against police. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there were 135 officers killed in 2016, up from 123 the year before, and 64 were shot and killed, up from 41 the year before.
‘‘It’s a shame what’s been happening to our great, truly great, law enforcement officers,’’ Trump said. ‘‘That’s going to stop, as of today.’’
Trump has cast himself as a pro-law enforcement candidate since the campaign trail. Some advocates worry that he is not adequately concerned, though, with police abuses and those killed by police.
Some cities in recent years, including Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and Charlotte, North Carolina, have seen protests and violence erupt after incidents of black men being killed at the hands of law enforcement officers. The Justice Department under former president Barack Obama sent mediators to those cities to try to keep the peace. The Obama administration also aggressively investigated the police with systemic reviews of entire departments to address the root cause of conflict between law enforcement and residents.
Neither Trump nor his attorney general mentioned such investigations at the swearing-in ceremony. On the White House website, the Trump administration has hinted at a crackdown on protests. ‘‘Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter,’’ the site says.
Sessions, though, did note another issue of importance to him: immigration. That is significant, as the Justice Department is in the midst of a heated court battle to defend Trump’s now-frozen executive order barring refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
‘‘We need a lawful system of immigration - one that serves the interests of the people of the United States,’’ Sessions said. ‘‘That’s not wrong, that’s not immoral, that’s not indecent. We admit a million people a year plus, lawfully, and we need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety, pulls down wages of working Americans.’’