Prepared Remarks of
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Fraternal Order of Police
New Orleans, LA
August 1, 2005-9:00 am
It is a privilege to be in New Orleans with you all today. I want to start out by acknowledging the important work those in this room are doing. Thank you for your service to your communities and for your efforts to keep America’s homes and neighborhoods safe.
You are the first line of defense in the fight against crime. From your courage and your accomplishments flow the justice and hope, freedom and opportunity that make America great.
In addition, I want to thank you for your personal support for me in my nomination for Attorney General. Jim and Chuck your hard work has made the FOP an important voice for law enforcement, and I appreciate your continued work on behalf of all Americans.
Today, I want to discuss one important aspect of the fight against crime: the expanding danger of violent street gangs and what we at the Department of Justice are doing to help you in this battle.
Many years ago as a young boy I first saw the movie West Side Story. As you may recall, the film romanticized life in competing New York City gangs. In reality there is nothing romantic or heroic about street gangs. And I want to make my point with another story of a cold-blooded killing and a hero in uniform.
Deputy Jerry Ortiz had gone into work early on Friday, June 23rd. He had recently returned from his honeymoon, having been married three weeks.
The 35-year-old deputy had been with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 15 years. He went in early, as he often did, in order to get a jump on a street-gang investigation.
Deputy Ortiz was going door-to-door conducting interviews in a gang-plagued neighborhood. At 3 p.m., he had just knocked on the door of a house and as he was checking IDs, someone shot Deputy Ortiz in the head from point-blank range.
As L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca described it, “this was an assassination of a deputy. It was a sudden attack that gave the deputy no chance.”
The alleged gunman is Jose Luiz Orozco—a suspected gang member.
When Sheriff Baca spoke to the press about the murder, he printed out Orozco’s rap sheet: It was five-feet long. At the time of the shooting of Deputy Ortiz, Orozco was out on parole and was wanted on an outstanding warrant for attempted murder. He was arrested cowering in a bathtub at a nearby house.
Deputy Ortiz was a five-year veteran of his department’s anti-gang task force.
His investigation was part of a broader effort to reclaim the small community of Hawaiian Gardens from gang intimidation, drugs sales, and violence.
Deputy Ortiz sacrificed his life to do his duty.
None of us in this room wants another fellow officer or his or her family to face the tragedy of Deputy Ortiz.
At the Department of Justice, we are committed to working with federal, state, and local officials to stop the wave of gang violence that led to his murder.
According to the FBI’s 2005 National Gang Threat Assessment, g ang membership—especially Hispanic gang membership—is on the rise.
Cities and regions that were once untouched by gangs are now facing the dangers of drugs and violence that flow from gang activity.
We also know that gangs associate with organized crime entities—such as Mexican drug organizations, Asian criminal groups, and Russian mafia. These criminal enterprises often use gangs to conduct low-level criminal activities, enforce territorial boundaries, and facilitate their drug-trafficking networks.
We are seeing gang members become more sophisticated in their use of computers and technology. Some are even using the web to set up meetings and expand into identity theft.
Worse, our latest data indicates new trends in gang violence that we must anticipate and prepare for: The gangs that are migrating, spreading, and expanding are increasingly influenced by the California-style of gang culture. As you know, they are more competitive, regimented, and sophisticated. This gang culture brings with it more violent and targeted techniques for intimidation and control, as well as a flourishing subculture and network of communication.
In Virginia, we saw two gang members convicted after they had murdered a pregnant 17-year-old because she had agreed to testify against the gang. In the quiet community of Hempstead on Long Island, we’ve seen drive-by shootings riddle neighborhoods and innocent bystanders with bullets. And in Dane County, Wisconsin, we’ve seen aggressive tactics—including savage beatings and murder—being used to keep young boys from quitting gangs.
For the safety of our children, our families, and the men and women who patrol and protect our streets, we must stop gang assaults on our fellow citizens and our peaceful way of life.
The news is not all bad. Thanks to you, we are making progress in our fight against violent crime. It falls to us to build on our recent successes and confront the dangerous threat of street gangs using proven tactics of communication, cooperation, and coordination.
In April, I established the Attorney General’s Anti-Gang Coordination Committee. This group will advise the Department of Justice on how we – working with you – can best use our resources to reclaim communities—city by city, precinct by precinct, block by block—from the grip of gangs.
I have asked every United States Attorney to appoint an anti-gang coordinator, and to prepare and implement a comprehensive, district-wide strategy—in consultation with state and local law enforcement—to coordinate anti-gang activity across the board.
Make no mistake: We cannot do this without you. In our struggle against gangs, the men and women of state and local law enforcement are our best defense and our greatest hope for restoring our communities and bringing hope and opportunity to those who have none. You each know your streets and communities best. We want to be a resource and a partner with you in tackling these tough problems.
We need your experience and expertise. As we have worked to build the strategies of the anti-gang initiative, we have learned that different regions and communities face different law enforcement challenges. For instance:
Of course, these findings are not comprehensive – they are generalities. Every city, community, and precinct faces its own particular and fast-changing challenges.
Tomorrow is the deadline for U.S. Attorneys to present their plans for a coordinated anti-gang strategy. As we go forward together, let me tell you a few things about our early objectives.
First, our goal will be to help you. We know the federal government can contribute.
As gangs migrate and expand, their identification and differentiation pose new obstacles for law enforcement, especially in rural communities.
We can provide intelligence and build on the training the Department has provided for years.
Second, results, not talk, are going to drive our budgets.
I can tell you from working with President Bush for more than a decade that he is a leader who thinks talk is cheap, but deeds are not. President Bush wants citizens to see concrete results, not just good intentions.
That’s why we will be looking at successful anti-gang prosecution and prevention programs from every level of law enforcement and every area of the country.
With this anti-gang initiative we want to communicate, support, and spread the resources and techniques that help you get results. A significant portion of our budget now goes to programs and activities directly related to help defend America against terrorism. We do not want to waste remaining taxpayer money on programs that are unproven, unnecessary, or simply burdensome for the men and women on the street.
And we can get results—just look at the successes we have won together with a similar national crime initiative: Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Project Safe Neighborhoods has produced significant increases in federal prosecutions of firearms violations.
This program succeeds because it relies on local information and local partners to fight local crime. In short, it relies on you. You understand what is happening in your counties and cities—and you know what needs to be done to stop it.
But we must do more than just prosecute gangs. We must also work on prevention. As a father, I believe that we must give our children the support they need to say “no” to gangs. Becoming a member of a gang dramatically increases the odds a child will commit a crime and decreases their chances of ever completing their education. When a juvenile chooses a gang, he or she is often closing the door to the future. This is what is at stake.
I have asked the United States Attorneys across the country to work with community and faith-based organizations to offer at-risk youth alternatives to gangs and to support re-entry programs for those released from prison. These, and many other programs, must play an important role in a comprehensive approach to gangs—one that includes prosecution and prevention.
That is the same principle that underlines our Weed and Seed Strategy. As many of you know, this community-based strategy helps state and local law enforcement “weed out” the violent criminals in their area, while also planting the “seeds” of development and revitalization. These include prevention, intervention, and treatment services that help our children make the right choices to stay out of trouble.
Project Safe Neighborhoods and the Weed and Seed Strategy recognize that we have to work together to achieve our goals. Whether that is fighting crime, locking up gun-toting criminals, breaking up gangs, or providing healthy alternatives to violent behavior—federal, state, and local officials want a safer America, and we must continue to combine forces to get the job done.
As Attorney General one of my primary goals is to work to ensure this spirit of cooperation influences everything we do at the Department of Justice to help you—and your partners at the state and local level.
Finally, let me thank all of you again. Many of you have been leading this fight for some time. And like Deputy Ortiz, you know that every day could bring the tragic or the unexpected.
My brother, Tony, is a 26-year veteran of the Houston Police Department. I know that his wife, Kris, hugs him as he goes to work as a SWAT officer, carrying the knowledge that he faces unknown dangers with every shift. This is a special burden for families and spouses, as well as officers.
I look forward to continuing to work at the federal level to ensure that we deploy the best tools and tactics in the fight against gangs at every level of law enforcement—so that our neighborhoods will be safe and you can go home to the loving embrace of family and friends.
Together we are striving to finish the work of fallen heroes like Jerry Ortiz:
To establish a Nation that is safer and more secure.
To build communities with greater freedom and that open up opportunity for all.
To bring the light of hope to children and families who live in fear when the dark of night falls.
As the son of poor Mexican migrants, I have lived the American dream. During my travels across our beloved America, I have met others who have also lived the American dream.
You and I are engaged in a noble effort for our beloved Nation: to ensure that the American dream is available to our children and to every generation of American children yet to be born. In this effort there can be only one outcome. In this great country, there can be no failure.
May God watch over you and your families, may He continue to guide your decisions, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.