Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
at Press Conference Announcing New Initiatives
for Law Enforcement Efforts in New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana
February 13, 2007

Thank you. I am joined on stage today by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, acting director of the Office on Violence Against Women.

I am proud of the work of Jim and his team in the creation and the continuing work of the Southeast Louisiana Criminal Justice Recovery Task Force. Jim’s office continues to meet challenge after incredible challenge. Thank you, Jim, for your leadership.

Earlier today I took a tour of Central City. While there have been improvements since my last trip here, much still needs to be accomplished. I also had the pleasure of meeting today with federal prosecutors, state and local law enforcement, and community leaders to hear their perspectives and to thank them for all they have done. These dedicated men and women have taken seriously the charge to raise up this city on their shoulders.

I am proud of our federal law enforcement officers -- including agents from the ATF, DEA, ICE, FBI and U.S. Marshals Service -- who are working alongside their local counterparts and providing resources, new ideas, and critical leadership.

Fighting crime in New Orleans is primarily the responsibility of local and state law enforcement, because the vast majority of crime here –from murders to robberies to petty theft – is not federal in nature. At the federal level, however, we can offer targeted help and resources, and that's what we've done and what we will continue to do. Like other cities around the country, this community can ultimately solve its problems. The federal government is a part of the solution.

Since Hurricane Katrina hit, the Department of Justice has made more than $30 million in grants to the City of New Orleans and to Orleans Parish. These funds have provided for agents, attorneys, equipment, and infrastructure needed to rebuild the criminal justice system.

I am announcing today that the Department of Justice is allocating additional resources to help the New Orleans Police Department reestablish its crime laboratory. With the assistance and financial support of FEMA, as well as that of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, the city has acquired the space necessary to establish a single dedicated NOPD crime lab at the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Center. This lab will be staffed with additional technicians to assist in processing evidence and clearing the backlog that has built up since Katrina.

In addition, the DOJ Office of Justice Programs will provide funding to support two victim assistance specialists for three years. These two positions will assist the New Orleans District Attorney's office in providing crucial services to the victims of crime and helping to make them aware of their rights.

Finally, I am very pleased to announce that the Department of Justice will commit up to $3 million to address domestic violence and sexual assault in the city and surrounding parishes. Victims of these crimes need a wide range of services in order to heal, such as counseling, police, social services, medical care, employment assistance, and emergency housing. But they often are forced to seek help in a fragmented system of separate agencies offering uncoordinated services. And in New Orleans, many of those services were simply washed away. The circumstances that lead someone to seek these services are often traumatic…finding help shouldn't compound the problem. We have an opportunity to build, from the ground up, a system where these services are coordinated to help individuals and families resume their lives in dignity and safety.

We are exploring using this funding to help the City of New Orleans create a comprehensive service and support center, modeled after the President’s successful Family Justice Center Initiative, where victims of domestic violence and sexual assault can find the services they need in one central location. We will work with state and local government, and the non-profit community, to determine the best ways to address the specific needs of victims of domestic violence in New Orleans. These groups have done a great job with limited resources, and we will support them in filling a real need in this community—helping victims to rebuild their lives just as we are all seeking to rebuild the city.

I know that crime remains a problem here. I know that services are still not where we need them to be and that progress is never as fast as we would like. The road to recovery is long, but the initiatives I have described today are positive steps down that road. The hard work of the law enforcement community is making a difference, and all of our work will result in a safer New Orleans.

And now I'd be happy to take your questions.