08/31/2006

Justice Department official says federal government can do better to help fight crime

By HOPE YEN
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- A top Justice Department official said Wednesday the government would strive to work better with cities to stem crime on the streets.

Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty told a gathering of mayors and police chiefs from 50 cities that he was concerned about reports of growing violent crime - including homicides, robberies and aggravated assault - in cities nationwide. He acknowledged difficulties due to demands with fighting terror and wars abroad.

"I'm well aware that there are many needs and desires on the part of law enforcement that we have not been able to serve well," McNulty said at the national crime summit organized by the Police Executive Research Forum.

He said the Justice Department was seeking more funds for its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives division to stem gun trafficking. But reclaiming money that was diverted from crime-fighting to anti-terror efforts may be difficult, he said.

"I wish I could stand here and say all that will be restored in the next year or two," McNulty said. "We are facing some big challenges. I see the challenges in fighting the war on terror. I see it is very expensive to fund soldiers overseas. At the same time, we have to find ways to get resources to win here at home."

Several city officials blamed a more single-minded approach on the war on terror that they said came at the cost of millions of violent-crime victims.

"Where is the moral outrage?" asked Dean Esserman, the chief of police in Providence, R.I., which has seen a rise in robberies. While the U.S. is fighting in Iraq, "we are at home killing ourselves," he said.

After years in which violent crime fell or was stable, the FBI in June reported a 2.5 percent rise last year in violent crimes, the largest percentage increase since 1991.

In Philadelphia, homicides jumped from 330 in 2004 to 377 in 2005, a 14 percent increase. Murders climbed from 272 to 334 in Houston, a 23 percent rise, and from 131 to 144 in Las Vegas, a 10 percent increase.

In Washington, D.C., police chief Charles H. Ramsey declared a crime emergency because of a spike in violence, setting a 10 p.m. curfew for youths 16 and younger as well as stepping up policing in crime hot spots.

The FBI has said it is not yet clear whether the numbers reflect a real increase or ordinary year-to-year variations. But some criminal justice experts have said the statistics reflect the nation's complacency in fighting crime.

At the summit, city officials shared stories about their challenges in fighting growing crime, particularly among juveniles, amid cuts in community programs for youths as well as an uneven economic recovery.

Philadelphia police commissioner Sylvester Johnson expressed his frustration that his department couldn't stop the homicides, blaming a Congress that he said was beholden to special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association.

Crime, he said, was no longer a local issue but a national problem that will play a factor in congressional and presidential elections.

"Capitol Hill doesn't get it," Johnson said. "They need to make a call to a parent whose kid got shot in the face. I know the NRA is strong, but we can be stronger."

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On the Net:

Police Executive Research Forum: http://www.policeforum.org/

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