BOSTON — Pursuing human, drug and gun trafficking cases and being more of a visible presence in the community will be among new U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins’ priorities as she takes helm as the top federal prosecutor in the state, she said Thursday.
The Boston Democrat, who became the first Black woman to serve in the role when she was sworn in Monday, said she wants her office to work closer with state and local officials on trafficking and other violent crimes that “deeply impact” local communities.
“There’s a unique opportunity with the federal government to come in and get stricter sentences for individuals that are harming” local communities, Rollins said in a roundtable with reporters in her office in the Boston federal courthouse.
The 50-year-old former Suffolk County District Attorney also stressed that her new role, which involves overseeing a staff of more than 250 across three locations, is inherently different from her prior job as an elected district attorney.
Rollins, who was the first woman of color to serve as district attorney in Massachusetts, gained national attention for a progressive approach to criminal justice. She declined to prosecute a number of low-level crimes often associated with drug addiction and mental health issues, such as trespassing, shoplifting, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.
“As the U.S. attorney, there’s no list, full stop,” Rollins said. “We want to prioritize the things that the attorney general of the United States prioritizes.”
At the same time, she said, she intends to continue her efforts to overcome the skepticism some have of law enforcement.
“We can do so much for communities if we just ask them what it is that they need and what it is that they are hoping for,” Rollins said.
She also reflected on the violent and racist threats she’s faced since being nominated for the post, stressing that she would not have taken the job if she didn’t feel she and her family were safe.
“I have no problem with criticism of what I’ve done or who I am, but when things go to a place where it’s racist or bigoted or sexist or quite frankly threatening the safety of myself or my three little girls, that’s a bridge too far,” Rollins said.
She was more circumspect on some of the high profile cases she inherits from the sprawling college admissions bribery case to the Justice Department’s “China Initiative” crackdown on Chinese economic espionage that had been a major priority of her predecessor but has come under scrutiny lately. For those and other specific issues, Rollins mostly said she needed to get further briefed.
Rollins was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate last month, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote.
She earned her law degree from Northeastern University in Boston and was a prosecutor in the office she now runs from 2007 to 2011.
Rollins also previously served as legal counsel for a number of public agencies, including the Massachusetts Port Authority, state Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.