The Biden administration is supporting local police fighting violent crime without abandoning its goal of curbing misconduct in some departments, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the past month, the Justice Department said it would flood federal agents and racketeering prosecutors into Memphis, charged 20 people in South Carolina with trafficking guns and drugs; and seized a cache of machine guns, rifles and silencers in Rhode Island. The top federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., said he would try more teenage carjacking suspects as adults, blasting what he called overly lenient criminal-justice laws that had “swung too far” in the capital. “We have to bring the numbers down, and we have to make people feel safe,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. At a conference last week in Indianapolis, he sought to reassure police that DOJ is as tough as ever on crime, after the Biden administration had showcased efforts to fight what officials view as inequities in the criminal justice system. “Our job is not politics,” Garland said. “Our job is law enforcement.”
The emphasis on violent crime comes amid a growing public perception that crime is out of control in some cities, with critics from both parties suggesting criminal justice overhauls have gone too far. Administration officials say fighting crime and overhauling are complementary. “The Justice Department’s ability to be effective at tackling crime depends on law enforcement having the trust and legitimacy in the communities that they serve,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. She called it a “false dichotomy” to say that fighting crime and safeguarding civil rights are in conflict. “We have to have all of these things at once,” she said. DOJ's ability to affect the crime rate significantly is limited, with the federal government serving in a largely supportive role to local police. DOJ prosecutes major drug and gun cases, gives out billions of dollars in grants to local departments, and provides technology to help cities trace firearms used in shootings. In Indianapolis, hundreds of law-enforcement officials and community leaders met for a “violent crime reduction summit,” where they focused on Project Safe Neighborhoods, a decades-old effort emphasizing partnerships among law enforcement and community groups as well as aggressive prosecution of gun and gang crimes.