U.S. deputy atty general orders federal prosecutors to cooperate with local police to protect crime victims

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By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on Friday ordered federal prosecutors to share tips and better coordinate with local law enforcement about ongoing violent or sex abuse crimes, particularly against minor children, even if they do not intend to pursue federal charges.

The U.S. government "must be mindful of our duty to promote public safety when there may be an ongoing risk of violence or harm to victims," Monaco wrote in an Oct. 1 memo to federal prosecutors.

"Nowhere is this obligation more important than when vulnerable populations - including minors - are at risk," she wrote.

The Justice Department did not say what prompted the policy change.

But it comes just a few weeks after the FBI came under attack in a high-profile hearing in the U.S. Senate that featured testimony from famous gymnasts including Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney who spoke about the bureau's failure to properly investigate sex abuse allegations against disgraced USA Gymnastics former doctor Larry Nassar.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department's internal watchdog revealed the FBI made numerous mistakes in the Nassar probe. In addition to failing to interview victims, the FBI never notified local law enforcement about the allegations of abuse.

State officials in Michigan ultimately were the first ones to arrest and charge Nassar for sexually abusing young athletes. The United States later filed federal charges for possession of sex abuse materials.

In Friday's memo, Monaco said the department's policy strongly encourages the prosecution of "all crimes" involving sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, but that even in cases where the federal government cannot bring its own charges, "our obligation to protect crime victims and ensure public safety does not end."

She also on Friday released a second memo ordering the department's Crime Victims Work Group to be reconvened, and directing officials to propose revisions to the department's policy manual on how it fulfills its obligations to crime victims.

That memo comes just days after the department's inspector general also uncovered flaws with how the FBI notifies child victims when their images are discovered during federal investigations into child sexual abuse materials.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)