WASHINGTON — Justice Department officials met Wednesday with police commanders, mayors and FBI leaders from across the country to discuss ways to reduce violent crime.
The summit came amid a rise in murders in many large American cities this year. In Washington, D.C., for instance, there have been 120 homicides reported this year compared to 83 at the same time in 2014, an increase of more than 44 percent, according to the most recent figures from the police department.
Though the numbers nationwide are nowhere approaching the violence that ravaged the country in the early 1990s, the upward trend this year has alarmed local and federal officials and defied easy explanation. Some law enforcement officials have blamed easier access to drugs, a flow of illegal guns and a growing willingness in communities to settle disputes through violence.
“Everyone’s grappling with this,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in an interview. “I don’t know that anyone has the answer.”
Most of the meeting took place privately. But Attorney General Loretta Lynch said afterward that the group spoke about the effects of crime and the needs for government partnerships.
“The best ideas for how to solve the entrenched problems that we are dealing with now, we are hearing from people who face them every day, who have faced them for years and, frankly, for generations,” she said.
Though law enforcement officials have an important role to play, it’s also critical to discuss how to “alleviate some of the problems, the myriad problems and concerns, that stifle opportunity and lead to violence in the first place,” such as poverty and weak schools.
FBI Director James Comey told reporters last week that he was “very concerned” about rising murder rates and that “all of us need to figure out what is going on here.”
He said police chiefs have told him the victims of the violence are largely young men, but aside from that, there aren’t obvious unifying factors.
“The chiefs tell me that all across the country, in cities that have nothing in common except that they’re American cities, they’re seeing huge spikes in violent crime — especially homicide,” he said.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but I think we’ve got to stare at it,” he said. “What does Omaha have in common with Milwaukee? With Tampa?”
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