Yet the federal government, for all its vast investigative powers, plays a supporting role when it comes to fighting street crime. The Justice Department prosecutes major drug and weapons trafficking cases, provides technical support on gun tracing and the analysis of other evidence, and distributes billions in grants to supplement the budgets of local departments that are mainly paid for by area taxpayers.
Over the past year, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has announced a series of steps intended to bolster efforts to counter rising crime rates, at a time when the administration as a whole is anxious about the dire political implications of the perception that it is letting the situation spiral out of control.
They include the creation of five “strike forces” that work with local law enforcement to disrupt firearms trafficking; a Drug Enforcement Administration initiative to combat drug-related violent crime and deal with overdose deaths in 34 cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Memphis and Detroit; a $139 million initiative to hire 1,000 officers at understaffed local departments; and a rule that effectively bans the production and sale of homemade “ghost guns,” which are fueling gun violence on the West Coast.
In December, Congress provided $1.6 billion in additional funding for departments and community groups to address violent crime and community justice. The associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, who has tried to balance support of local law enforcement with the administration’s social justice agenda, oversees some of those initiatives.
There has also been an uptick in prosecutions. Over the past few weeks, the department has brought a series of major gun cases, including an indictment against an illegal weapons dealer in Texas who sold 75 guns that were subsequently connected to homicides, drug deals and other crimes.
But the biggest recent boost, from the department’s perspective, might be among the least flashy: the confirmations of U.S. attorneys whose nominations had previously been blocked by Republicans in the Senate, providing frontline federal prosecutors with more stability in aggressively pursuing cases. One of them is Jacqueline C. Romero, the new head of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, who took over the office shortly before Ms. Monaco’s visit.