Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will expand the use of Project Exile, a program to reduce gun violence that FBI Director James Comey helped start in Richmond two decades ago when he was a federal prosecutor there, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. “We’ve seen a priority that’s slipped away from firearms on the federal level,” Sessions said, speaking to law enforcement officials. “Firearms prosecutions have gone down. This downward trend is going to end.” Project Exile is a widely copied program credited with cutting Richmond’s violent crime 20 years ago by shipping firearm violators to far-off federal prisons.
Project Exile’s effectiveness has been questioned and has been criticized by some for disproportionately hitting low-income African Americans. Sessions cited a need to be sensitive but to fight crime where it is found. He said it is people in those communities who plead for help. Sessions praised local police agencies for dramatic crime rate reductions and promised more federal assistance in stopping recent increases in violent offenses and an opioid epidemic. He noted that crime had fallen to historic lows in Richmond and across the U.S. in recent decades. Between 2014 and 2015, the violent crime rate in the U.S. increased by 3 percent, the largest increase since 1991, in what he believes is a trend that needs to be reversed. “I think our police departments are better trained, our prosecutors are better trained, we just know how to fight crime more effectively,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of people are alive today because of good police work — and because we’ve got a lot of murderers in jail. They’re not going to murder private citizens if they’re in the slammer, I can tell you that.”