WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department plans to propose $200 million in grants to cities to help combat gang and gun violence, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced Thursday.
The funds -- which will be included in President Bush's budget proposal to be unveiled next month -- are primarily intended to help establish new task forces to target armed youths blamed for much of the nation's ongoing violence.
It would be a significant increase from the $75 million awarded last year, when Justice officials established the program. Known as the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership, the federal money goes directly to cities that successfully compete for the funds and explain how they will be used to attack violence.
"This initiative will help communities address their specific violent crime challenges, especially where multiple jurisdictions are involved," Mukasey told the National Conference of Mayors in Washington. "We'll be able to send targeted resources where they are needed the most and where they show the most promise."
Several mayors who listened to the attorney general's address said they believe the establishment of local and regional task forces in which federal agents work with police from several neighboring jurisdictions has proven effective and eliminated duplication of law enforcement resources.
"Task forces and matching grant programs like Project Safe Neighborhoods, and Weed and Seed, and the COPS program really help," said Mayor Terry Bellamy, of Asheville, North Carolina.
"Working in cooperation with federal partners has certainly helped," said Mayor Irvanna Wilks of Mount Prospect, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said that, more than the money, he was impressed with Mukasey's comments on the use of firearms by criminals.
"I thought it was important that he recognized the prevalence of illegal guns in violence. We've had two recent shooting deaths of African-American youths in Seattle," Nickels said.
After two years of increases nationally in violent crime, the most recent FBI statistics show the number of violent crimes declined slightly during the first half of last year.
Mukasey referred to "historically low crime levels nationally," but said such broad trends are of only limited value in dealing with a problem that has to be dealt with on a much smaller scale.
"The nature of crime varies not only from one city to another but even from one block to the next," he said.
The attorney general also told the mayors he is concerned about the potential release of 1,600 criminals convicted on crack cocaine charges following a ruling by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
"A sudden influx of criminals from federal prison into your communities could lead to a surge in new victims as a tragic, but predictable result," he said. E-mail to a friend