Good morning. Many years ago I flew gliders as a cadet at the Air Force Academy at nearby Colorado Springs. Riding the afternoon thermals, flying high along the Rampart Range in the bluest of blue skies, I dreamed about being a fighter pilot one day. Those were magical moments, alone in my thoughts with no sound but the wind rushing over the wings. And while I did not become a pilot, I have lived the American dream. I may not work in a cockpit nor target enemy fighters, but I do serve my country by going after the bad guys as Attorney General.
Today, many of us share the dream of safe neighborhoods. Every American deserves to live free from the fear of violent crime. One way we are achieving this goal is through Project Safe Neighborhoods.
When people talk about PSN, it’s not uncommon to hear about partnerships and collaboration as the backbone of the program. It’s true – those efforts are essential to our work to eliminate gun crime.
But PSN is successful because of the people that work hard everyday to make it so – each of you in this room, especially. So I’d like to begin by saying “thank you.”
Without your hard work, long hours, constant dedication, and superior expertise – PSN would not have the incredible track record we are able to celebrate today.
There’s no better way to recognize these efforts than by highlighting the dramatic results of your work.
Take, for example, the Lancaster PSN Task Force. The Fifty Million Soldiers gang used violence and mayhem to dominate the crack cocaine markets in the City of Lancaster and the surrounding area.
The local PSN task force targeted lower-level members of this deadly violent group for federal prosecution, many of whom soon cooperated with investigators. The resulting information-sharing revealed that the gang was buying guns in South Carolina, trading them for drugs in New York City, and then selling those drugs on the street corners of Lancaster City, Pennsylvania. All the while, members of the gang would shoot and kill competitors who attempted to sell on their turf.
Thanks to Project Safe Neighborhoods, these violent criminals will face justice. And in almost every case prosecuted through our PSN task forces, defendants serve hard time in prison.
It’s worth noting that homicides in Lancaster are down by nearly 90% thanks, largely, to the efforts of the PSN task force.
This is just a snapshot of the work across the country to combat gun crime and lock away violent criminals. The bigger picture is impressive as well – especially a violent crime rate at its lowest level in three decades. Last year alone, you prosecuted more than 13,000 defendants for violations of federal gun crimes – a record high.
The President has requested $395 million dollars for Project Safe Neighborhoods in next year’s budget. This includes more than $58 million dollars for the critical State and Local Gun Violence Assistance program, which supports PSN’s State, local and community partners in their efforts to combat violent gangs and gun crimes.
Of course, numbers only tell part of the story. A large portion of your impact can only be tallied in human terms. That’s why this last measurement really stands above the rest: In 2004, there were more than 115,000 fewer victims of non-fatal violent crimes than the year before…and more than 200,000 fewer than there were at the turn of the millennium. That’s enough people to fill nearby Coors Field four times over. Each of them could have been victimized by gun crime were it not for your work under the Project Safe Neighborhoods program.
Of course I want to emphasize that PSN is not just about law enforcement, it is also about prevention. Last week we marked National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. It was an opportunity to remember those we’ve lost, and celebrate the spirit of victims who have lived to turn moments of tragedy into a triumph for others.
It is their stories of heartbreak and hardship that motivate me to find ways to act sooner – not just with prosecutions after a crime has been committed, but before an innocent person is hurt. Once that trigger is fired, it’s often too late for innocent families.
Prevention works. Just ask Bobby Green. Green and a friend of his had just completed an Indiana Project Safe Neighborhoods crime-prevention course, when they found a man violently attacking his wife in broad daylight.
The program at PSN partner Christamore House is designed for at-risk teens, and includes lessons about resolving disputes without guns or violence. So the two young men knew just what to do – and they managed to defuse the situation, call 9-11, and safeguard the victim until police arrived and arrested her assailant. This violent criminal might have killed his estranged wife were it not for the intervention of Green and the prevention efforts of the Indiana Project Safe Neighborhoods partnership.
Prevention works. And here’s another way we can spread the word. Today, I am pleased to announce that we’ve created – in partnership with the Ad Council – two new radio public service announcements to further warn Americans of the impact of gun crime. Let’s listen to “Sounds of Gun Crime.”
As you can hear, these are powerful messages that will be effective in deterring gun crime, just as our past PSA campaigns have helped contribute to the rapid decline in gun violence.
Another way we can prevent gun crime is to focus our attention under PSN toward violent gangs.
As you know, gangs threaten the safety and security of our Nation’s citizens. In cities and towns across the country, neighborhoods have been plagued by gang assaults, robberies, and shootings. As gang members gain control of the streets, citizens become prisoners in their own homes. Any hope for the promises of the American dream gets locked away behind the deadbolts of fear and intimidation.
I’ve made it clear that I want to use the same successful methods pioneered under Project Safe Neighborhoods to continue to fight violent gang members and gang activity.
Let me tell you how we’re going to do that.
First, with more resources. I am proud to announce that we have released $30 million dollars to the field to support PSN anti-gang enforcement and prevention efforts. These anti-gang block grants will be used in virtually every single district.
This will complement the traditional PSN mission – for which we also have an additional $10 million for state and local grants this year.
Lastly, we have recently launched a $15 million dollar comprehensive anti-gang initiative in Cleveland, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Tampa, and a corridor of gang activity that stretches from Easton to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia. Each of these areas will receive $2.5 million dollars to implement comprehensive anti-gang strategies in their communities.
Under this new initiative, the U.S. Attorney in these six cities will participate in a “street level” partnership with state and local government and community leaders to develop innovative solutions and better coordinate federal resources to deal with the unique gang problem facing each community. This partnership will employ three essential strategies in the fight against gangs: prevention, prosecution, and prisoner re-entry.
First, we must address the personal, family, and community factors that cause young people to choose gangs over more productive alternatives. The more success we have in prevention, the fewer people we'll have to prosecute for violent activity down the road.
The second part of the program will provide resources to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute gang members who terrorize our communities. The goal will be to lock up the most significant violent offenders.
Finally, we want to ensure that offenders returning to society don't choose violence again. This initiative will support the services and assistance – such as transitional housing, substance abuse treatment, and job training – that offenders need to return to a productive life outside of prison.
There is no limit to what we can achieve by working together to combat violent gangs. The stakes are simply too high for anything less than complete cooperation across jurisdictions, disciplines, and every level of government.
That’s why, today, I am also directing each U.S. Attorney to convene a Gang Prevention Summit in their district designed to explore additional opportunities in the area of gang prevention. Too many young people fall prey to the false promises of gang life. These summits will bring together law enforcement and community leaders to discuss best practices, identify gaps in services, and create a prevention plan to target at-risk youth within their individual communities.
The PSN story is a compelling one. It’s the story of cooperation at every level of law enforcement…of collaboration between governments, social services, community partners, and local leaders. It’s the story of dramatic reductions in the number of gun crimes and crime victims…of safer streets and communities where residents are no longer forced to lock themselves behind deadbolts and window bars, because we’ve put criminals behind bars in federal and state prisons.
This conference is an opportunity to renew our efforts to add to these stories. We can add the story of taking back our city streets from gang violence with new federal resources. We can add to the chapters of hope and opportunity with stories of young men and women saying “no” to the false promise of gang membership…of our worst offenders being locked up so they can’t harm our citizens…and stories of former gang members choosing to have productive lives outside of prison.
We’ll achieve our goals when the best do their best. You are the best…the best investigators, the best service providers, the best prosecutors. Thanks for keeping America safe from gun crime.
However, there is someone else that would like to say thank you as well. He appreciates the success story of Project Safe Neighborhoods. Though he could not be here in person, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the President of the United States…