Sessions’ federal crime initiative sparks debate in Memphis area

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - - A major move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is causing controversy. As Sessions announced yesterday, a President George W. Bush-era crime initiative is getting beefed up.

It's called Project Safe Neighborhoods. It's a program where the Federal Government partners with local law enforcement to crack down on violent crime. It's funding has been reduced over the years, but now, the Department of Justice wants to spend $70 million on it, according to an Associated Press report.

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland supports the plan, which in part, would send certain violent offenders to federal court, where convictions could carry longer prison sentences.

"This murder rate and crime rate has gotten out of hand. So, anything we can do is a plus," Roland says.

The program would give local law enforcement access to advanced investigative tools and resources.

"The police, 99.9 percent of them are the best people in the world, and we've got to take the chains off of them and allow them to be the police," Roland says.

Roland says the program goes hand in hand with Shelby County's violent crime strategy, which according to him, includes the hiring of more deputies.

But local criminal justice reform advocates say harsher prosecution and longer prison sentences won't solve crime issue in the Memphis area. Josh Spickler, with Just City, says it will only lead to more over-policed neighborhoods in the Memphis area.

"It will not affect the problems that contribute to violent crime. It will not affect the decision-making process by the young men in this community who commit most of these crimes," he says.

Spickler would rather see $70 million go to gun control and job creation in poor neighborhoods.

"Jobs and economic viability of our neighborhoods is a much better investment for the Federal Government," he says.

A partnering initiative would send an extra 40 federal prosecutors to roughly 20 United States Attorney's Offices across the country. Commissioner Roland believes the district Memphis sits in will be one of them.