Federal prosecutors in Utah announced a new initiative Friday to crack down on gang violence. The move comes after recent remarks by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding a spike in violent crime nationwide.
Sessions spoke recently at the National Association of Attorney’s General Annual Winter Meeting. He said while overall crime rates in the U.S. are at historic lows, official FBI data show the country experienced a 3 percent increase in violent crime from 2014 to 2015-the largest one-year increase since 1991. And the murder rate is up 11 percent.
“That caused me to wonder how we’re doing in Utah,” said U.S. District Attorney John Huber. He said data from the Utah Department of Public Safety shows violent crime in the state was up 13 percent during that time frame.
“Echoing the Attorney General’s concerns of whether this is a blip or a trend, we are not willing to gamble on which one it is,” Huber said. “We are assuming this is a trend and we are committed to stop it.”
Huber said he’s ordering the 50 prosecutors in his office to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of gang crime. That means, he said, putting gang investigations over perhaps a one-off opioid addict who robbed a convenience store.
When asked how much gangs actually contributed to the Utah’s uptick in violent crime, Huber said he’s unable to parse that out. But he called the effort low-hanging fruit, noting gangs by design commit violent crimes.