YODER — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told an audience of law enforcement Friday afternoon at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center near Yoder: “We have your backs.”
And U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Manhattan, who invited Sessions to Kansas, directed the same sentiment toward Sessions, a target of critical tweets by President Donald Trump.
Moran introduced Sessions as “a great solid attorney general of the United States” who Moran hopes remains in that role far into the future. “He is doing the job that is statutorily required of him,” Moran said.
“I used to think the only crime in Kansas was spitting on the sidewalk,” Sessions said during an approximately 30-minute speech on efforts to combat violent crime.
After more than two decades of declining crime rates in the nation, a surge in violent crimes began just before Trump took office in 2017 - and Kansas was included in the rise, he said.
“Here in Kansas, the violent crime rate increased 9 percent,” Sessions said. Aggravated assault increased by 9 percent, too, and robbery shot up “a shocking 30 percent,” Sessions noted of recent trends.
“Last year, there were more murders in Kansas than any year since 1959, when the KBI started keeping track. There were 40 percent more murders in Kansas last year than the 10-year average,” he said, reading from prepared remarks.
Trump is “the law and order president and has listened to the people of this country. He has heard their concerns. This issue is a priority for him,” Sessions said.
Sessions outlined how an injection of federal aid will help Kansas:
• He has ordered 300 more federal prosecutors, including “two right here in Kansas who will focus exclusively on violent crime.”
• The Justice Department will award $100,000 to help Wichita police purchase 67 body cameras for officers.
• The Department of Justice also will provide $700,000 to Kansas City for a multiple-agency effort and a focus on “hot spots” where crime is rising.
• The Department will send over $400,000 to support drug courts in Winfield.
Preliminary data suggests violent crime and homicide rates this year are coming down, Sessions said, but “we're not going to slow down.”
The auditorium could accommodate up to 1,350, but the audience appeared to be less than half that number and included students at the KLETC. Among those attending were top officials of the University of Kansas, which is affiliated with the KLETC; and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Wilborn, McPherson, and Wink Hartman, the lieutenant governor running mate with GOP gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach.
A range of city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies were represented, including Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson was among area officials present.
“The funding’s always important, but I think more important today is just the show of support,” Schmidt said, referring to Sessions’ praise of officers and his recognition of the job they carry out.
Moran and Sessions served in the U.S. Senate together and now Moran is the new chairman of the “powerful Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations subcommittee,” Sessions noted.
Darin Beck, executive director of the KLETC, and Moran and Sessions were the trio that took the stage at the beginning. Sessions had a function Friday night in Washington, D.C., and he left promptly after delivering his speech.
“I certainly believe that he is a quality attorney general and I think it’s important for him to be there in the position that he’s in at this time in our country’s circumstances. And while I can't speak for every Senator, my conversations with my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, they believe that Attorney General Sessions should remain attorney general,” Moran told the press after Sessions left.
Trump has said Sessions will remain in office at least until the mid-term elections are held in November.