With protesters on the street out front, U.S. Attorney General William Barr hailed Kansas and Wichita-area law enforcement on Wednesday, but would not answer questions about President Trump and impeachment inquiries on Capitol Hill.
Barr, who heads the U.S. Justice Department, said Kansas and local law enforcement are significant partners in keeping pressure on gun crime, drugs and gangs.
“I wanted to come here to Kansas because this is one of the most successful federal, state and local law enforcement partnerships we have in the country,” Barr said during brief remarks to local media.
He said crime rates have been dropping over time in most places.
“But there’s still some places around the country where the crime rate is substantially above the national average and we’re seeing some upticks in crime,” he said. “Not only in our big cities, but we’re also seeing crime in some rural areas start going up as some of the drug-trafficking organizations are avoiding the enforcement regimes of the bigger cities.”
He was silent on the impeachment inquiry and didn’t acknowledge a reporter’s shouted question of whether he had talked with the president or his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, about the Ukraine.
Pressure to impeach the president has grown recently over allegations that Trump leveraged U.S. military aid in an effort to enlist the Ukrainian president and his government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential Trump opponent in the 2020 election.
Barr was accompanied by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. A member of the subcommittee that sets the Justice Department budget, Moran said Barr has been lobbying him heavily for more support in the war on crime.
Moran mentioned alleviating pressure on county jails and a rising suicide rate among law enforcement officers as two particular areas of concern.
He said too many people are being locked up in jail when what they really need is treatment for mental illness and/or substance abuse.
“Our county jails have become, in a very expensive way, a place that we house people that we don’t have programs for,” he said.
To reduce officer suicide, he advocated for more money for counseling services to treat job-related stress and called on police to do a better job of reaching out to colleagues who appear to be troubled.
While Barr spoke inside the Wichita/Sedgwick County Law Enforcement Training Center, on the Innovation Campus at Wichita State University, about 30 protesters demonstrated on the sidewalk out front.
There were some tense moments as WSU police asked that they move to a “free speech zone,” the nearest of which was about two blocks away at the north end of the campus.
The demonstrators refused to move and ultimately, police relented and let them stay as long as they promised to keep the protest peaceful.
Protesters said they think Barr, the nation’s top prosecutor, has been acting more on behalf of the president than the people of the United States.
“As attorney general, he’s supposed to be a neutral person who serves the citizens impartially,” said WSU student Meghan Beyer.
Protester Vicki Wagner carried a sign reading “US Department of Injustice.”
“We don’t have a Department of Justice anymore, we don’t have an attorney general anymore, the president does,” Wagner said.