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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks on drugs, Memphis crime rate

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions touched on crime rates and the climbing rate of heroin deaths both in the Bluff City and across the nation while in Memphis Thursday.

He spoke for about 25 minutes, taking no questions from the crowd or media.

He didn`t give much on specifics but did say the federal government wants to help Memphis fight crime.

Sessions started by noting the crime stats, specifically that Memphis experienced a 43 percent increase in homicides last year. It's one of the highest in the country.

But he did acknowledge we're not alone. There are several cities that are seeing big increases.

"This is happening in America. We cannot allow it to get out of control."

The Attorney General credited much of the rise in violent crime to the rise in drug use across the country, saying here in Memphis we are seeing the affects.

"In Memphis and Shelby County, heroin related deaths have skyrocketed 800 percent in five years," Sessions said. "And this isn't far off the national average!"

In response, to the nation's crime problem, he said he will soon be hiring 230 more assistant attorneys and has directed all of his prosecutors to work closely will local law enforcement.

Prior to the speech, Sessions met with Mayor Jim Strickland, Police Director Michael Rallings and other local leaders.

The mayor said they were “frank” with Sessions about the city’s needs.

“We took the opportunity of the meeting to request additional federal resources to help us reduce violent crime. We asked for continued and expanded grant funding, additional agents to join the Multi-Agency Gang Unit and Organized Crime Unit, and to continue with the COPS Office’s collaborative review of MPD.”

Sessions acknowledged the city doesn’t have enough police officers on the street, but commended the department for all they have done.

Sessions also discussed the importance of holding drug traffickers accountable.

"It’s important to remember that we’re not talking about low level offenders in federal court or in state court for most instances. These are criminals arrested with large amounts of drugs. The prevention programs in the long run are the most important and effective thing we can do," he said.

"He is of course very informed on the challenges we face here in Memphis and knows our violent crime rate and he listened," explained District Attorney Amy Weirich.

“For the Attorney General to make time to come to Memphis and be concerned with violent crime in our city and commit the support of the federal government to me is a step in the right direction," said MPD Director Mike Rallings.

Meanwhile, protesters representing many local advocacy groups gathered outside saying Sessions' policies discriminate against people of color. They specifically talked about mandatory minimum prison sentences. They say it tears apart families and doesn't solve the root of the issues in our community.

There were some Sessions supporters in the crowd leading to some heated debates, but overall it a peaceful protest.

Sessions is scheduled to speak with local religious leaders Thursday evening.