THE HONORABLE WILLIAM W. MERCER
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
ACTING ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BJA NORTHEAST REGION CONFERENCE
THURSDAY, JANUARY 25, 2007
Thank you, Domingo. It’s a pleasure to be here.
I’m delighted that OJP’s Assistant Attorney General, Regina Schofield, asked me to address this conference. Regina and I have worked closely together to advance the mission of OJP, and to make sure that OJP’s programs and priorities are central to the Justice Department’s strategy for fighting crime in America’s communities.
I want to thank Rod [Rosenstein] as well for joining us, and for all the fine work he does as U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. Having served as the U.S. Attorney in Montana for the last six years, I am very familiar with the heavy workload and responsibility that he bears as the chief federal prosecutor for his district. I appreciate his commitment.
Rod and I have been fortunate to spend much of our professional lives in public service. I first met him when he came to the Department of Justice in 1993. And I have been serving there in one capacity or another since 1989. Although I continue to serve as U.S. Attorney, I am here today in my capacity as Acting Associate Attorney General. But in many ways, my interest in working on programs funded by DOJ dates back to the early 1990s when I played a role in the launch of the Weed and Seed program and the rollout of the Community Oriented Policing program funded by Congress in the supplemental appropriation in early 1993. I received a graduate degree in public administration before going to law school and these experiences gave me an opportunity to apply what I learned about the development of public policy, public management, and program evaluation.
As U.S. Attorney, I had the good fortune to Chair the Montana Board of Crime Control, my state’s SAA - - state administering agency. Combined with my work as a prosecutor, and as U.S. Attorney charged with developing initiatives, the last six years has given me an important perspective. It has helped me to fully appreciate the face of the criminal justice system. I am well aware of the outstanding work done by law enforcement officers and prosecutors. But I am equally aware of the demands that those of you who work on program development and execution face every day in improving our justice system.
One of my responsibilities as Acting Associate AG is to oversee the work of our Office of Justice Programs and its Bureau of Justice Assistance. I have come to know Domingo and Regina, and I have seen the work that their staff do. And from what I can see, you have good partners.
But I also know that their commitment is fueled by excellent work. And I am well aware that you are doing it under some pretty adverse circumstances. Funding is tight. Responsibilities are growing. And criminals are finding ever more creative ways to commit their offenses. But in spite of all this, you keep rising to the challenge on behalf of the people of your communities.
Frankly, we want to know how you do it. And one goal of this conference is to facilitate a conversation about your best practices so we can help others do the same.
One of the things I appreciate about Attorney General Gonzales is his interest in reaching out to our state and local partners. He understands that you are the ones generating and field-testing ideas. That’s why, with efforts like Project Safe Neighborhoods and Project Safe Childhood, he has been very clear with the U.S. Attorneys that they need to involve local prosecutors, local law enforcement, and community organizations in developing crime-fighting strategies. As Rod and I know, it is not just a suggestion, it is a directive.
We know that crime has edged up in many communities. That fact is not lost on us. It is something we are very concerned about. We need to figure out what is at the bottom of it, and I do not think the analysis can be limited to funding levels.
Officials in the Justice Department have been traveling the country, meeting with state and local officials in an effort to find out why crime has gone up in some areas and not in others. Our plan is to share what we learn in an effort to help the cities that are experiencing an uptick crime. It will also help us to know how to target our resources – like the many resources here in BJA – to get maximum benefit out of what we have to offer.
One of the things that I like to discuss with folks in positions like yours is a concept that jelled for me as Chairman of the Montana Board of Crime Control. To ensure impact of a program, it is essential to determine whether its success is undercut by the underperformance of other key partners.
Let’s say you have distributed JAG dollars to a multi-jurisdictional drug task force and that the dollars are utilized for salary, benefits, overtime, equipment, rent, etc. Assume further that you have a very productive task force – they produce great cases involving a large number of targets. If you do not match that energy and productivity with adequate prosecutorial capacity, what have you really achieved? Or, if you have an equally impressive corps of prosecutors to charge those arrested by the task force, but sentences imposed after convictions fail to protect the public, promote respect for the law, and deter, what have you really achieved? So, I contend that you need to focus on impact evaluation across the continuum of our work. So, how are you managing to know whether you have the right mix? And what do you do when you don’t?
Of course, the process of maximizing impact begins with collaboration, and this is where the AG has focused our efforts. A perfect example of the benefits of collaboration is our work to fight gangs and gang violence.
As we all know, the problem of gangs has grown serious and complicated – even more complicated than it used to be. Gangs are no longer confined to crowded urban centers. They’re reaching into very rural areas, like Indian country.
They have become very sophisticated in their networks of communication. They have expanded their menu of crimes to include things like identity theft and other offenses you do not normally associate with gangs. And their organizational structures have evolved to the point that gang leaders are capable of exerting strong influence even from behind prison walls. Our assumptions about gangs and the way they operate must be re-evaluated, and our strategies for dealing with them re-assessed.
Last year, the Attorney General directed every U.S. Attorney to designate an anti-gang coordinator who would work with local partners to develop an anti-gang strategy. Every federal district now has submitted a plan to fight gang violence. And the U.S. Attorneys are holding gang prevention summits that bring together law enforcement and community leaders to talk about effective programs and to figure out an approach to fighting gangs. If you have not been part of those discussion and have input to offer, I urge you to contact your U.S. Attorneys.
Here in Maryland, Rod and his staff worked with the governor’s office to hold a summit last June. And I know that they had some fruitful discussions about strategies to address the problems of gang violence.
The U.S. Attorneys involvement is a reflection of the Justice Department’s commitment to the issue. Attorney General Gonzales has made combating gang violence one of his top priorities. Under his direction, the Department is spearheading a comprehensive anti-gang initiative that will provide federal resources and leadership in six sites around the country.
We also awarded almost 30 million dollars in grants and training and technical assistance last year to support gang prevention and enforcement under Project Safe Neighborhoods.
And Domingo’s office awarded almost 20 million dollars under our Gang Resistance Education And Training, or G.R.E.A.T., Program. Many of you are involved in G.R.E.A.T. or you’re familiar with how it works. But for those of you who don’t know, G.R.E.A.T. takes advantage of law enforcement’s capacity as educator by bringing kids together with sheriffs and police to teach them how to avoid gang involvement. It is an excellent way to instill in young people not only the consequences of criminal and delinquent behavior, but also respect for the law and those who uphold it.
And I think this is tremendous: BJA also offers free training to law enforcement agencies that commit to teaching the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum in their communities’ schools. That is an excellent example of how we are finding ways to meet the needs of communities in attacking this problem.
Anti-gang efforts are a major component of Project Safe Neighborhoods, which is a cornerstone of the Administration’s crime-fighting agenda. PSN is premised on collaboration between federal, state, and local agencies. The idea is that we want to send a message to violent criminals that their actions will not be tolerated. The best way to do that is to work together and come up with strategies for putting them away for significant prison term.
That approach is working. Federal firearms prosecutions are up significantly. A vast majority of defendants who are charged have been convicted and sentenced. And those who are convicted are doing serious time. From 2002-2005, federal prosecutors charged 20,000 more defendants with firearm offenses than had been done during the same period of time from 1995-1998.
That success is due, not just to more vigorous federal efforts, but to greater cooperation between prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and others at all levels.
As noted with my earlier example, PSN works well because of accountability across the criminal justice continuum. Our partners in state and local law enforcement and probation know that those guilty of firearm offenses will be pursued by ATF. Whatever subjects are presented for prosecution will receive a hard look by state or federal prosecutors. If convicted, substantial sentences of incarceration will take them out of the community and into confinement. Only in a system where all actors are productive can we enhance public safety. And many of you are helping to target crime hot spots, focus on minimizing recidivism through offender notification, and developing and sharing best practices.
We need that cooperation to fight another problem that is often closely related to gangs, and that is the problem of methamphetamine. You’ll discuss some of the serious issues around meth during this conference.
A recent survey of county law enforcement officials found that meth remains their number one drug problem. Moreover, crimes that are linked to meth continue to grow, and what was once a problem more or less limited to my area of the country – the West and Midwest – is spreading east.
We are responding through training and technical assistance. OJP, through BJA, awarded a grant to the National Association of Counties to help county governments respond to the meth epidemic. The project will provide online trainings and teleconferences and will identify promising approaches to responding to meth.
We also provide information resources highlighting law enforcement efforts to crack down on meth, as well as trends in meth use. And we are supporting a National Drug Endangered Children Resource Center that will provide critical information to local, tribal, state, and federal agencies on how to help children endangered by drug abuse, including meth.
Each of these programs represents an effort on the part of the Justice Department to work with and support our state and local partners as they go after meth producers and distributors.
Partnerships are also at the center of our approach to dealing with sex offenders and those who seek to use the Internet to exploit children. Those are two other topics you will hear a lot about here.
We recently established the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office, known by its much less unwieldy acronym – the SMART Office. The SMART Office is a requirement under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which President Bush signed into law last year.
The President recently appointed Laura Rogers to be the Department’s first SMART Office coordinator. Ms. Rogers and Assistant Attorney General Schofield will work together closely to administer the provisions of the new law, specifically with regard to the registration of sex offenders.
The law also gives statutory authority to our efforts under Project Safe Childhood. Project Safe Childhood is a Department-wide effort to address the sexual exploitation of children online. It is modeled after Project Safe Neighborhoods, so it is another strong example of our work with states and local governments.
Project Safe Childhood does two basic things: It supports law enforcement officers and prosecutors as they investigate cybercrimes against children. And it provides resources to educate parents and citizens on Internet safety.
The foundation of Project Safe Childhood is a network of 46 state and locally led task forces set up in regions throughout the country. The purpose of these Internet Crime Against Children task forces is to assist in investigations, provide forensic support, and help prosecute cases. They also offer training and technical assistance, aid victims, and provide community education.
Those task forces have made thousands of arrests in cases ranging from small, local operations to worldwide networks involving millions of traded images.
One of those arrests came last March, when an investigation by the task force in San Diego led authorities to the convalescent center of a children’s hospital. When they got to his computer, they found tens of thousands of still and video images. The images showed the suspect having sexual relations with children, many of them very young.
As many of you know, this case is just a snapshot of what can happen in almost any child pornography investigation. A few pornographic pictures downloaded by a single individual turn into thousands of images traded across the country. And often, child pornographers turn out to be vicious sexual predators.
Sadly, these criminals are not just going to go away. In fact, if anything, they’re getting bolder and more sophisticated in how they operate.
We are working with prosecutors and law enforcement officials to hone our response to these crimes. Attorney General Gonzales has directed every U.S. Attorney to work with prosecutors and investigators in their districts to create strategic plans for addressing this serious and widespread problem.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we are approaching this issue with the same strategic thinking discussed earlier. We are engaging community organizations and the media to explain how widespread and horrific child pornography and on-line predation is. We need law enforcement to respond to all complaints of child pornography possession, distribution and production and all reports of on-line predation. At the same time, we need covert investigation to root out these crimes. When investigators have evidence of these crimes, a vigorous prosecution effort at the state or federal level must follow. And significant incarceration for those convicted is essential to protect the public. The research conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons shows that those convicted of child pornography offenses admit to many hands-on sex offenses previously unknown to law enforcement. If we fail to work efficiently across the continuum these sex offenders will not be incapacitated and our communities will be vulnerable.
Here again, we are depending on partnerships. We need you as we address this, and the many other criminal justice issues facing our country. As the Attorney General has said, “Our shared responsibilities to serve and protect are vast. None of us can do it alone.”
You are the front line in our efforts to bring down crime and violence in this country. Not only do we value your work and your feedback, we depend on them. I hope that you will reach out to us with your ideas, and that you will take our hand when we reach out to you.
I commend each of you for your commitment to improving the criminal justice systems of our country. I appreciate your hard work. And I thank you for your time.