Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday directed federal prosecutors across the country to "use every tool we have" to investigate and prosecute violent offenders as part of his effort to crack down on recent increases in serious crime.
In a memo to the Justice Department's 94 U.S. attorney's offices, Sessions told prosecutors to work closely with federal, state, local and tribal authorities to target the most violent offenders in each district.
"Turning back our nation's recent rise in violent crime is a top priority for the Department of Justice and it requires decisive action from our federal prosecutors," Sessions said in a statement released late Wednesday. "I'm urging each of them to continue working closely with their counterparts at all levels, and to use every tool we have to put violent offenders behind bars and keep our citizens safe."
Sessions' memo to his prosecutors follows a speech he gave last month to state attorneys general in which he said that historically low crime rates might be coming to an end and that recent crime increases could foreshadow a violent new period in the nation's history.
"Unfortunately, the most recent crime data available shows a 10.8 percent increase in the number of murders in this country, while federal prosecutions for violent crimes have been declining," Sessions said in his memo to prosecutors.
Sessions encouraged his prosecutors to use laws regarding firearms, robbery, carjacking and drug offenses as tools to bring investigations and prosecutions against suspected criminals. In his memo, Sessions said that prosecutions under the federal Controlled Substances Act "can drive violent crime down."
It is still unclear how the attorney general, who has long spoken out against marijuana, will enforce the federal laws against its use, which could undercut the growing number of states that have legalized the drug for recreational use. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last month that he expects states to be subject to "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana laws.
Sessions' tough-on-crime approach is also a key issue for President Donald Trump, who has already signed three executive orders directing the Justice Department to create a crime-reduction task force and take steps to target criminal gangs, reduce violent crime and curb attacks on police. Trump spoke of rising crime in his inaugural address and promised he would end "American carnage."
Overall crime is at a historical low in the United States. But serious crime, including homicides, has been rising in some major cities, such as Chicago.
Sessions has been under fire for testifying to Congress during his confirmation hearings that he did not meet with any Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. He recused himself from any campaign-related investigations after The Washington Post reported that he had met with the Russian ambassador twice during the campaign.
At a hearing Tuesday for deputy attorney general nominee Rod Rosenstein, who would oversee the Russia probe, several senators called on Sessions to return to the Senate Judiciary Committee and further explain his testimony.
Justice officials say that with this memo, Sessions is trying to move forward with one of his top priorities, a crackdown on violent crime.