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Justice Department to study violent crime in Buffalo

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it will come to Buffalo's aid in trying to figure out why violent crimes are being committed.

Buffalo is among 12 cities that will participate in the Department of Justice's new National Public Safety Partnership. The cities will be getting the kind of help they need most, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in announcing the program.

But in Buffalo, the number of violent crimes reported to police in 2015 – the last year for which official crime data is available – was the lowest it's been in any year in at least 25 years.

While four of the 12 cities will get "Operations Teams" that will train and coach local law enforcement for three years, Buffalo and seven others will get "Diagnostic Teams" that will study violent crime.

"Diagnostic Teams will assess the local factors driving increased violent crime, and will help local leaders develop strategies to address those factors, over a period of up to 18 months," Sessions said.

Buffalo's designation won't bring any additional funding to the city, as this is not a grant program. Instead, teams including Department of Justice employees and consultants will work with local law enforcement, the local U.S. Attorney's office and others in the community to analyze data that indicates why crimes are being committed.

A Department of Justice spokesman said Buffalo and the other cities were selected "through a process that considers both quantitative and qualitative measures." To be selected, a city must have levels of violent crime that far exceed the national average, as well as a local commitment to finding ways of reducing crime.

The creation of the Public Safety Partnership stems from a Feb. 7 executive order issued by President Trump aimed at fulfilling his campaign promise of combating violent crime.

"There is no doubt that there are many strategies that are proven to reduce crime," Sessions said. "Our new National Public Safety Partnership program will help these communities build up their own capacity to fight crime, by making use of data-driven, evidence-based strategies tailored to specific local concerns, and by drawing upon the expertise and resources of our Department.”

The help comes as Buffalo battles a wave of shootings. Shootings increased by 23 percent last year, compared to the average from 2011 through 2015, according to city police data.

But the overall number of violent crimes reported to Buffalo police in 2015 was lower than at any point since at least 1990, according to statistics from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Violent crime reports have been steadily decreasing in Buffalo since 2009, according to state data.

In addition to violent crime, reports for all types of crime were lower in 2015 than at any point in at least the last 25 years.

Homicides were up slightly in 2016, compared to 2015, according to city police data.

Mayor Byron W. Brown has blamed the increase in the number of shootings in 2016 in part on the local justice system releasing criminals back into the streets after they have been arrested.

"The frustration that our police department feels is that, to a degree, there is a revolving door," Brown said recently.

Mayor blames Buffalo's shootings on 'revolving door' of criminals with guns

The other cities getting Justice Department Diagnostic Teams are Baton Rouge, La.; Cincinnati; Houston; Jackson, Tenn.; Kansas City; Lansing, Mich.; and Springfield, Ill.

Birmingham, Ala.; Indianapolis; Memphis; and Toledo, Ohio, will get Operations Teams that will train local law enforcement.

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