Violent Crimes Are Not A Federal Priority


Violent crime is not a major focus of federal law enforcement or prosecution. A small percentage of federal crimes are violent.

It’s reasonable to conclude that it may be time for a new federal focus on violent crime.


Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council.

Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.


Question from a professional friend, “I thought the federal government was focusing on violent crimes. What percent of federal cases are violent?”

The answer? Violent crime is not a major focus of federal law enforcement or prosecution. A small percentage of federal crimes are violent. Most of the federal focus is on immigration, drugs, and violations of community supervision. Most federal actions (i.e., arrests, prosecutions) take place in border states.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants the federal government to refocus priorities and concentrate more on violent crime. Violent crime increased in 2015 and the first six months of 2016 in the United States. Violent crime is increasing in some (not all) American cities, see Violence Increases-Crime in America.

The subject of violent crime remains a hot-button topic and may have helped propelled President Donald Trump into office. Fear of crime, per Gallup, is at an all-time high (see link above).

The Attorney General also wants a return to Project Exile where federal prosecutors will focus more on violence within high crime communities, see Project Exile.

Chicago Tribune: Sessions Tells Federal Prosecutors to Target Violent Offenders

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday directed federal prosecutors across the country to “use every tool we have” to investigate and prosecute violent offenders as part of his effort to crack down on recent increases in serious crime.

In a memo to the Justice Department‘s 94 U.S. attorney’s offices, Sessions told prosecutors to work closely with federal, state, local and tribal authorities to target the most violent offenders in each district.

“Turning back our nation’s recent rise in violent crime is a top priority for the Department of Justice and it requires decisive action from our federal prosecutors,” Sessions said in a statement released late Wednesday. “I’m urging each of them to continue working closely with their counterparts at all levels, and to use every tool we have to put violent offenders behind bars and keep our citizens safe.”

Sessions’ memo to his prosecutors follows a speech he gave last month to state attorneys general in which he said that historically low crime rates might be coming to an end and that recent crime increases could foreshadow a violent new period in the nation’s history.

Sessions encouraged his prosecutors to use laws regarding firearms, robbery, carjacking and drug offenses as tools to bring investigations and prosecutions against suspected criminals. In his memo, Sessions said that prosecutions under the federal Controlled Substances Act “can drive violent crime down.”

Source: Chicago Tribune

Few Federal Arrests Are For Violent Crimes

1.9 percent of federal arrests are for violent crimes, 2.1 percent are for sex crimes, 4.2 percent are for weapons offenses.

Cases Referred to US Attorneys

2.3 percent were violent, 2.9 percent were sex offenses, 5.6 percent were weapons offenses.

Federal Arrests and Individual Suspects

1.9 percent are violent, 2.1 percent are sex offenses, 4.2 percent are weapons offenses.

Federal Cases in US District Court

2.4 percent are violent, 4.1 percent are sex offenses, 7.9 percent are wepons offenses.


From a variety of research, we understand that most offenders are not specialists; they are rearrested for a wide variety of crimes, see Recidivism-Arrests. So it’s possible that there are many violent offenders represented in the other categories mentioned.

The overwhelming number of criminal cases in the United States use plea-bargains allowing offenders to plead to a less serious crime in return for a guilty plea, or to have other charges dropped. Thus there are people listed as property or drug or public order or immigration offenders who originally had a violent or more serious charge.

The federal government, like all criminal justice agencies, has limitations. Administrations will focus on immigration or drugs because that’s the priority at the time. Federal intervention into “local” violent crimes to investigate or prosecute (virtually any crime can be federalized) will take additional resources throughout the federal criminal justice system.

But based on the data above, it’s reasonable to conclude that it may be time for a new focus on violent crime by the federal government.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics.


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