U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says African American police officers played key role in reducing crime rate

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Birmingham Friday, addressing NOBLE,a  national African American law enforcement organization.

Sessions, whose nomination was opposed by the NAACP, offered both praise for the group's efforts and a call to action.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers, NOBLE, said they picked Birmingham as a symbolic location, highlighting the struggle of the civil rights era and its contact with law enforcement.

During his remarks at the group’s winter meeting, Sessions praised black law enforcement officers, saying they were critical to the drop in the U.S. crime rate over the past 30 years.

Sessions said the drop in crime was due to more sophisticated policing and, “Better welcoming and participation in leadership and on the streets of our black police officers.”

But it wasn’t always that way, Sessions admitted.

“I remember real, raw discrimination in the hiring of police officers throughout the South particularly, it was unacceptable,” he said.

Sessions praised NOBLE’s members for efforts to encourage community policing and get to know the people they’re sworn to protect.

Sessions also touched on the issue of mass incarceration. He has been skeptical of calls for sentencing reform and Friday he explained some of his thinking on the issue.

“We're not here to see how many people we can lock up, that cannot be our goal,” he said. “Our goal must be to see how many people we can keep safe.”

The comment drew wide applause from the audience.

His remarks Friday focused on law enforcement and increased drug interdiction, he didn't touch on the Russia probe, his relationship with President Trump or the firing of Andrew McCabe, a former top-ranking FBI official.