Jeff Sessions left with a message for Philadelphia law enforcement: “We will always,” he said to a room of attorneys and officers, “have your back.”
It’s an open question of whether Philadelphia has his, given the controversial US Attorney General’s policies are often in conflict with those of local leaders. But the protection of law enforcement was a major theme throughout a 20-minute speech given late this morning by the controversial US Attorney General, whose job could be in peril after recent remarks by President Donald Trump. Sessions also hit on subjects like violent crime and sanctuary cities and peppered his remarks with several Philadelphia anecdotes.
Here are five of the main takeaways from his speech:
He’s still against Philly’s sanctuary policy
Of course Jeff Sessions was going to bring up sanctuary cities. The policy in Philadelphia and many other US cities of not honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests has been a target of the AG’s office since earlier this year.
“Local police I know are supportive and want to work together on these issues,” he said. “And I know that you want to help. The problem is the policies that tie your hands.”
He quickly got into Philadelphia specifically, citing two cases in which he claimed an undocumented immigrant who was released from custody despite an ICE request went on to commit a violent crime.
“They are giving sanctuary not to law abiding citizens of our country,” he said. “They are providing sanctuary to criminals. It’s sad for me to say that one of those jurisdictions is Philadelphia. This is especially sad for the residents of Philadelphia who have been victimized as a result of these policies.”
Near the end of the section of his speech about sanctuary cities, Sessions said, “Philadelphia and others should reconsider the harm they’re doing to residents, to rethink the policies.”
He’s focused on rising homicide rates
When Sessions’ boss Donald Trump came to town earlier this year, he made a false statement by saying homicides had been ‘terribly increasing,’ after a year in which the murder rate went down. However, since then, the rate has risen. Sessions also talk about crime here but in more specific fashion. He spoke about homicides and noted they’re up about 20 percent so far this year (as of today, Philly Police data show homicides up 21 percent). He recounted the story of a man shot in Nicetown last night, as well as a teenager killed in Kensington last month who was on the way to a friend’s house to play video games.
“This is not acceptable, not in America,” Sessions said. “We need to be able to have safety and children need to be able to be outside in any city, any neighborhood in this country. They deserve better. We all deserve better. It’s not a Philadelphia problem alone. It is certainly a national problem.”
He wants more respect for police
Sessions said a Philadelphia police officer told him a story about troubles with the department. After a new class of recruits had passed all the required tests, the department sent letters to everyone who made it. Sessions said fewer than half of those who could join the department decided to join.
“We don’t need to create a situation in which our police departments are not seen as fabulous places to work,” he said. “We don’t need to do anything in our efforts in this country that demeans or undermines the respect we have for the men and women who serve us….You can know I have that as a top priority.”
He wants to target prescription-happy doctors
In addition to violent crime and stopping international terrorism, Sessions listed as dealing with the opioid crisis as a top priority. Surprisingly, he didn’t bring up Philadelphia’s epidemic and just talked about the problem nationally. One of his goals for law enforcement is to focus on prescription drugs, what he called “a winnable war.”
“If we work together with local law enforcement and intel and using our DEA and computer data to identify outliers who prescribe so much of this drug,” Sessions said, “I am convinced that we can turn the tide on prescription drug abuse and that would be a contribution to the health and safety of our country.
He didn’t talk about Trump
One day after it was revealed President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t have hired Sessions had he known he’d recuse himself from the Russian investigation, Sessions said nothing about it. He barely talked about Trump, aside from referencing the administration as a whole when discussing crime strategies. After the speech, Sessions didn’t take any questions from the audience or media.