United States Attorney General William Barr joined Sen. John Cornyn and Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, at North Lake Highlands boxing gym Wednesday afternoon to promote an initiative officials say will make neighborhoods safer.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, which President Donald Trump signed into law last year, is designed to cut down on violent crime through task forces, coordination with law enforcement and community organizations, and by focusing on repeat offenders and organized crime. Speaking at a roundtable presentation that included representatives from the FBI, Dallas Police Department, and City Council members Adam McGough and Jennifer Gates, Cornyn briefly referenced the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart as he applauded the initiative for making a dangerous Dallas neighborhood safer.
“And while there's no question there's more we can do ... it's important to remember that those types of attacks represent about 0.3% of all gun-related deaths,” Cornyn said.
Both Barr and Cornyn spoke of neighborhood-focused initiatives as an important way to reduce crime. Cornyn said 60% of gun deaths in 2017 were from suicide, 37% were from homicide and 13% were gang-related. He called for a comprehensive approach that focused on communities with high levels of violent crime and focused on taking guns away from gangs, young men with criminal records and people with mental health problems.
“This prescription has worked,” Barr said. “In my view it's the only way to really reduce violent crime.”
Cox cited Department of Justice research that suggests that 95% of a city's violent crime happens in 5% of the city. The initiative, she said, homes in on those neighborhoods, like Lake Highlands, and makes entire cities safer by cutting down on crime in those targeted areas.
In the first eight months of the program in Lake Highlands, crime went down by 19.9%, Cox said. The boxing gym where the appearance was held is run by the Dallas Police Athletic League and Parks and Recreation Department. Having safe after-school programs like the boxing gym is critical to making neighborhoods safer, Cox said.
But Barr said community outreach programs only work when they are conducted in tandem with efforts that take violent criminals off the streets. This is the only way to make communities safer, he said.
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Barr also announced a $700,000 grant for the Dallas task force. The task force is named Operation 10934, for the badge number of officer Rogelio Santander, who was shot and killed in the line of duty last year in Lake Highlands. Of that total, $119,000 will go to the Dallas Police Department and $115,000 to The Better Block, a nonprofit that focuses on helping South Dallas community members clean up their neighborhoods.
The initiative's programs started in many U.S. cities in the early 2000s, but although Barr cites this kind of effort as the only way to reduce violent crime, a 2018 study of Chicago's program indicates that short-term successes don't necessarily sustain in the long run.
“While John Cornyn parades around Texas today hosting photo ops and press opportunities with disgraced Republican United States Attorney General William Barr, he continues to ignore the real safety crisis in this country, our gun violence epidemic,” said the Texas Democrats in a statement.
The appearance, which comes not long after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, and as the city of Dallas struggles to deal with an increased homicide rate, ended abruptly when reporters pressed Barr for a statement on gun control.