CHICAGO — After calling out rising crime in Chicago six times since taking office, President Donald Trump moved to make assaulting a police officer a federal crime.
In a series of executive orders signed by the president just after former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general, Trump ordered his new top law enforcement officer to figure out how to use federal laws to "prosecute individuals who commit or attempt to commit crimes of violence against ... law enforcement officers."
In Chicago, a similar proposal — known as the "Blue Lives Matter ordinance" — has languished in the City Council since being proposed in July by Ald. Edward Burke (14th), a former police officer who is considered the dean of the City Council, serving as alderman since 1969.
Trump said his actions are "designed to restore safety in America" and would send a message to the "gang members and drug dealers."
"A new era of justice begins," Trump said from the Oval Office. "And it begins right now."
Trump also ordered the Justice Department to target the international gangs the president said were at the center of the illegal drug trade.
None of Trump's actions have the force of law, but set the stage for changes in the future by identifying priorities and launching the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.
That group will be charged with suggesting ways to "reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime."
Any actions Trump takes could be aimed at Chicago, which he has targeted repeatedly while discussing public safety.
After surging in 2016, violence in Chicago showed no sign of slowing in the first month of 2017, with just as many shootings and murders in January 2017 as in January 2016. Despite Trump's focus on Chicago, more than a dozen American cities have a higher per capita murder rate.
Trump's actions were immediately condemned by the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has also objected to the proposed Chicago's Blue Lives Matter ordinance.
"Chicago is in the midst of a policing crisis — created because of deep mistrust of the police by the communities they serve," Illinois ACLU Director Karen Sheley said. "The answers in Chicago must come from our communities, not from Washington, D.C."
While meeting with the National Sheriffs' Association Tuesday morning at the White House, Trump incorrectly stated that "the country's murder rate is the highest it's been in 45 to 47 years."
But Sessions said after taking office he is convinced that the recent increase in murder rates in several big cities, including Chicago — despite the fact that the rates remain near historical lows — are evidence of a serious problem.
"We have a crime problem," Sessions said. "I wish that rise that we're seeing in crime in America today was some sort of aberration or blip."
Instead, Sessions said he believed it is a "dangerous permanent trend."
Bur there is no data to suggest the increase in crime is permanent, experts said.
Trump said one of the executive orders was designed to "break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth" and use federal law to thwart international gangs.
On Wednesday, Trump blamed rising violence in Chicago on "gang members, many of whom are not even legally in our country" but gave no evidence to support his claim.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the Chicago Police Department — which is prohibited from tracking immigration status by the Police Department's rules as well as Chicago's Sanctuary City ordinance — said he had no data to support the president's claims.
The president also ordered that all grants be reviewed to ensure federal money is used to protect federal, state and local police officers.
Since taking office Jan. 20, Trump has repeatedly put Chicago's struggle with violent crime in the national spotlight — as he often did during the presidential election. In August, Trump told Bill O'Reilly of Fox News that police could end the city's violence "in one week" if they wanted to.
Trump threatened Jan. 24 in a tweet to "send in the Feds" unless Chicago officials "fix the horrible carnage'" in the city.
In addition, in his first television interview from the White House, Trump likened violence in Chicago to violence in Afghanistan.
During an event Feb. 1 to mark the beginning of Black History Month, Trump said violence in Chicago was "totally out of control."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel repeatedly has urged the president to fund programs like those creating summer jobs and to create tougher gun laws while expanding the partnerships between the Police Department and the U.S. Justice Department, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
But with no announcement of help from the White House forthcoming, a mayoral spokesman said it raises the question of whether the president is just "using Chicago violence to score political points."
Sessions — in his new role as the chief of the Justice Department — will oversee the negotiation of a legally binding agreement — known as a consent decree — to reform the Police Department, which federal investigators found routinely violated the civil rights of residents by using excessive force caused by poor training and lack of supervision.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said Sessions told him during a meeting before his confirmation hearing that he would not commit to implementing any reforms recommended by the report conducted by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama.
In 2008, Sessions called consent decrees "dangerous" and said they "constitute an end run around the democratic process."