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Attorney General Merrick Garland directed US attorneys across the country to increasingly prioritize the prosecution of federal crimes committed on commercial flights as federal officials face a historic number of investigations into passenger behavior.

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Garland’s memo, released Wednesday, emphasizes that the Justice Department is committed to aggressively prosecuting violent passengers who attack crew members or endanger the safety of other passengers. Federal law prohibits interfering with a flight crew, including assaulting, intimidating, or threatening crew members.

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Garland said in a statement that such passengers do more than harm employees. “They preclude the performance of vital duties that help ensure safe air travel. Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the proximity of a commercial aircraft, the conduct puts everyone at risk,” he said. Is.”

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The memo also notes that dozens of incidents have been reported to the FBI by the Federal Aviation Administration. Checks for some flight disturbances And as part of an “information-sharing protocol” between the two agencies — disruptive passengers could be issued civil fines.

The FAA said earlier this month that it had launched 950 investigations into passenger behavior on flights this year. This is the highest total since the agency began keeping track in 1995. In the five years from 2016 to 2020, the agency conducted an average of 136 investigations a year.

The agency also said that It had referred 37 cases Adding unruly airline passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution as the number of disruptions to flights began to mount in January.

“The unacceptable disruptive behavior we are seeing poses a serious security threat to flights, and we remain committed to our partnership with the DOJ to combat it,” FAA Administrator Steve Dixon said.

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Airlines and their unions have pressured the federal government to more aggressively pursue criminal prosecution. Airlines have reported more than 5,000 incidents this year involving unruly passengers, including more than 3,600 people who refused to wear face masks in accordance with federal regulation.

“The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to prevent violence, threats, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endanger the safety of passengers, flight crew and flight attendants on commercial aircraft,” Garland said in the statement. put it.” ,