Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
at the International Association of Chiefs of Police

Boston, Massachusetts
October 16, 2006

Good morning. It’s good to be here in Boston. I began to learn the law as a young man a few miles from here across the Charles River. I want to thank Mary Ann Viverette, Joseph Carter and Dan Rosenblatt for inviting me to this important conference where our collective education in the law and in law enforcement continues.

As many of you know, my brother Tony is a veteran SWAT officer for the Houston Police Department. So, it is a privilege for me to spend time with the leaders of the men and women in uniform who are doing the work on the beat to protect the American people.

You are the ones who make the streets of America safe, on a daily basis. And you are also developing the ideas and tactics that will continue to make those streets safe tomorrow even in the face of an ever-changing set of challenges.

I appreciate the work that is being done at this conference, and I appreciate the level of dedication each and every one of you has committed to your honorable work. You embody what President Theodore Roosevelt said: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly … who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly … ” The credit, indeed, belongs to you. Whether it is responding to a terrorist attack or a domestic violence call, you are in the arena with your comrades striving valiantly to protect our neighborhoods. Your hard work, and our work together, must be well-thought-out in addition to being extremely hard-fought – and that’s why we’re here today.

Chiefs of Police have some of the toughest jobs in the world – I know that and President Bush knows that.

It’s tough to be the first-response in any situation your community faces.

It’s tough to be the person in charge of protecting all of the kids in your city.

It’s tough to have to fight for more officers and more squad cars in the face of shrinking city budgets.

And it’s tough to know that no matter what you do, no matter how smart you are and how dedicated your team is … there’s no way to keep every single child safe and every city block peaceful.

But that is your goal, your daily purpose and pursuit, and you do the very best you can.

And it’s an honor to serve in this purpose with you.

Our shared responsibilities are vast. None of us can do it alone. So I hope that you look to the federal law enforcement community as we look to you: as teammates and as partners in guarding the American dream.

I know that the old perception of federal law enforcement, versus state and local law enforcement, may have been that of competitors. But our relationship today is different…it is better. We’ve learned to better share information and resources…we’ve learned to better share credit for our successes. I have observed that law enforcement officials are by nature proactive and aggressive. You see a problem and you want to solve it. That is part of what makes a good police officer. There will always be a healthy and understandable desire to be the best among your peers…to be first to solve a crime, to be the one to arrest the bad guy. But I think we have all learned that we are most effective working together.

Federal law enforcement knows that you have many thousands more feet on the street, and a critical proximity to the people we all protect. With 800,000 state and local law enforcement officials compared to fewer than 25,000 DOJ federal agents, for example, there can be no question that we learn from you, that we support you, and that we are a team.

We also know this: there is no more “us” versus “them” after September 11th. The only “us” and “them,” forever after, are freedom-loving Americans versus the terrorists who seek to destroy us.

In Washington, DC, we are keenly aware that the war on terror is not only fought on international fronts. It is fought in every city and town, every day, by local, state and federal law enforcement. Because, as Chief Bratton’s officers showed the world last August, sometimes a gas station hold-up isn’t just a gas station hold-up. Sometimes it’s a funding operation for homegrown terrorists. 

And our first line of defense is always going to be a local police officer working his beat.  An officer who sees something that looks suspicious, and responds. Our success in defending our homeland will be measured, largely, by the strength, the sophistication, and the thoroughness of each response.

Of course, our efforts are not only defensive.  We must be proactive in our counter terror efforts.  Those who plot to murder Americans are, by definition, breaking our laws by developing those plots. Our job is to catch and prosecute them for breaking laws before their plots come to fruition.

And let’s face it.  When we in law enforcement re-prioritized our mission after 9-11, to place pre-eminent emphasis on counter terror efforts, it wasn’t like we didn’t have a pretty full plate already. That massive responsibility to find the terrorists among us was added to our existing responsibilities – to crack down on drugs, gangs, violent crime, and crimes against children. Sometimes you’ve had to do more with less.

I know this, and so does the President. We appreciate how difficult this has been – and we applaud how well you’ve done to make our neighborhoods safer.

We have not had a terrorist attack on American soil in five years, and that is a testament to you and to the police forces you lead.

But that is not the entire story. We have had no terrorist attacks against a backdrop of continued record-low crime rates, nationally – evidence of highly successful deterrence and overall prevention. You are protecting the people of your communities against terrorism and traditional crimes with great success.

Law enforcement in some of our largest cities – like Miami and New York – can take credit for an ongoing era of big-city safety, with violent crime rates on the decline and violent criminals behind bars.

As you know, the recently-released National Crime Victimization Survey showed that non-fatal violent and property crime rates in 2005 remained at their lowest levels since the Survey was initiated in 1973. Between 2000 and 2005, the violent crime victimization rate fell by 24 percent – which is good news, proof positive that your work is making a difference.

Likewise, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the overall crime rate of 3,899 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants is the lowest crime rate measured by the UCR in more than 30 years.

But even in light of good news on crime rates, we hear from you that gangs, juvenile crime, and gun violence are persistent problems.

And I know we are all concerned that the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows a 2005 national violent crime rate that is slightly higher than the record-low rate in 2004.

Although the 2005 rate was still significantly lower than it was in 2002, 2001, 2000 and every other year since 1977 … even a small up-tick in violent crime cannot be ignored, especially when we have made such great progress.

In addition we have recent anecdotal reports that even in this year there may be a rise in violent crime in some areas.

We need to find out why this is happening, and if there is an upward trend in violent crime, what we can do to reverse that trend in those cities. And we need to do it together, by pulling together, as a law-enforcement team, to get the job done. And I will come back to this effort in a moment. But before I share with you some specific ideas on how this problem should be addressed, let me share with you first, my general philosophy on how we should go about tackling challenges like this.  After all, our record of partnership parallels our records of success. When federal, state and local law enforcement works together, we see Joint Terrorism Task Forces preventing terror attacks. We see more information being shared, more dots being connected, and thus more crimes being prevented and prosecuted. We see successful programs like Project Safe Neighborhoods, our new anti-gang and anti-methamphetamine initiatives, and ATF's Violent Crime Impact Teams all helping convict criminals and reduce crime.

In short: when working together, we are able to keep our neighborhoods safer and our children protected. We are partners like never before, and it works.

I know that the funding for these task forces is a small part of your budgets – but it’s an important part, and I am going to fight for you to have the resources you need to keep those task forces going.

Fiscally responsible budgets are extremely important – and the President is proud of the fact that his Administration has cut the federal budget deficit in half, three years ahead of schedule – but responsible budgets fund successful efforts, and our joint efforts to fight crime are very clearly successful.

From New York to El Paso and from New Orleans to Minneapolis, I have heard success stories from local and state law enforcement officials.

So our partnerships are working AND they are improving all the time.

It seems that sometimes tragedy helps us see things more clearly – like the fact that we’re all in this together.

In a post-9/11-world, information sharing is, more and more, a truly two-way street. When I travel the country I hear this, first-hand, from state, local and federal law enforcement. Open lines of communication and trust puts us on solid footing, well positioned to overcome any law-enforcement challenge that comes our way.

Today's challenge is taking on violent crime in the places where we see increases, and we will take on that challenge together.  We know that the violent crime story is not uniform across the country.  We also know that the problem is a complicated one, and we need to figure out the WHY behind the numbers – whether the story is good or bad.  

That’s why I’m announcing, today, what the Justice Department will do to respond to this challenge: The Initiative for Safer Communities.

We will focus on three “I”s.

*Investigate: We’ll examine the problems and dig deep to find their roots and what feeds them.

*Identify: We’ll find and highlight what works, what keeps cities safer.

*Finally, Implement: With best practices and innovative answers having been gathered, localities will be able to learn from each other and choose from a basket of solutions to apply in their cities.

I’ve asked Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty to lead this effort, and we look forward to working with this group and our other partners, like the Fraternal Order of Police, on these efforts.

Members of our national team will coordinate efforts to investigate the roots of the problem. We want to know what factors are contributing to a rise in crime in certain citites.

We will look at the cities that are achieving a decrease in rates to identify what is working for them.

We’ll look at things like Superintendent Philip Cline’s approach to drugs, guns, and gangs in Chicago. He’s divided the city into zones and he’s concentrating resources in the areas that have the most violence. He also has a separate gang intelligence unit.

We’ll look at crime prevention efforts like those in Fairfax County, Virginia, and in New Orleans, where Chiefs David Rohrer [ROAR] and Warren Riley are engaging communities and teaching kids about alternatives to gangs.

And we’ll look at whether other cities can replicate the success of Chief Heather Fong in San Francisco, whose force seized nearly 700 guns this year. Chief Fong ensured a continuous, visible presence in hotspot communities through extended shifts, special team members, traffic and motorcycle units, gang task force and narcotics officers … and it looks like those tactics are paying off.

Finally, we’ll share these results with law enforcement across the country to help you implement the best practices and effective tactics that will make your cities safer.

We embark on this journey ready to ask the tough questions. We’ll want to know what’s behind the spread of gangs, the increase in gang membership. We’ll look hard at how meth distribution networks are growing. We’ll consider whether a culture of violence is developing among our young people. We’ll seek honest answers about what works, what doesn’t, and why.

The message I want to leave you with today is simply this: The Department of Justice is committed to making sure that every American city and town can share in the success of low violent crime rates. And we know that teamwork is the only way to make that goal a reality.

The Initiative For Safer Communities will be complemented by the continuation of the Violent Crime Impact Teams Initiative and the resources of the National Gang Intelligence Center – where state and local law enforcement can access information on individual gang members, the relationship between gang members, gang structure and criminal activities.

Our commitment to our partnership with state and local law enforcement has only increased over the past several years. The Department’s 2007 budget requests $1.2 billion in targeted investments, including: State and local Project Safe Neighborhood grants, task force funds to combat domestic human trafficking, the Regional Information Sharing System, body armor, and the President’s DNA Initiative. Through these programs, the Department seeks to make a significant and positive impact in concert with you – our partners.

As the President said at his press conference last week, “the most solemn duty of the American President and government is to protect this country from harm.”

Living up to that duty is foremost on my mind, and on the minds of everyone in this room, when we go to bed at night and when we wake up every morning. I think we’re doing a very good job with the task, but more must be done. I look forward to continued work with all of you to make American neighborhoods safe for our children and grandchildren.

Thank you again for having me here today. May God bless you and your work, may He watch over you and your offices and may he continue to bless the United States of America.