Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to be here today. I just had a chance to talk with Mayor Palmer and some of the other leaders of the Conference, and I appreciate the chance to hear firsthand about some of your concerns.
The Department of Justice is a nationwide institution with broad responsibilities for protecting Americans and preserving their rights. But for most people in this country, your work has far greater impact on their daily lives.
Relatively few people in your communities know who I am or could pick me out of a lineup, but nearly all of them know you. And if they're anything like the citizens of my hometown of New York, they're not shy about letting you hear about it when they don't like something.
I am certainly not here today to tell you how to do your jobs, or to announce a laundry list of new initiatives and priorities. My goal during my tenure is to fulfill the core missions of the Department of Justice. One of these missions is to protect the citizens of this country from the scourge of violent crime.
In order to best do that, the Department must work cooperatively with state and local authorities. That cooperation comes not only through Department programs and task forces, but also through federal resources—also known to practical men and women such as yourselves as “money.” As I’ll discuss in a few moments, I am proud to announce to you today that the President is seeking an additional $200 million in funding for the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership for fiscal year 2009.
In preparing to come here today, I was glad to see that your 10-point plan presents the issue of violent crime rather broadly, including not only the crimes themselves, but also concerns about underlying challenges, such as the prevalence of illegal guns. It also highlights strategies that may help beat back the tide of crime, like anti-gang and other prevention efforts, and prisoner re-entry programs. Some of these issues may fall outside a strict definition of crime, and may not be fully captured by all of our tools for measuring crime rates, but they are no less important to our shared goal of keeping our neighborhoods as safe as possible.
Laws are not enforced in a vacuum. And I think the great partnership that we've developed over the past few years between the Department of Justice and mayors, governors, police chiefs, sheriffs, and other community leaders has been a success story that we should all take pride in telling.
Despite historically low crime levels nationally, I know that many of your communities continue to face challenges. We can talk about broad trends nationwide, and there is value in doing that, but ultimately we have to address these issues on a much smaller scale. As you know, the nature of crime varies not only from one city to another, but even from one block to the next. So it is at that block level that much of our work has to happen.
Those of us in federal law enforcement are well aware that you have many more feet on the street, and a critical closeness 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 is no doubt that we learn from you, that we support you, and that we have to be your partners in order to do the job we share: protecting our citizens.
We know that there is no "one size fits all" solution to crime in America. Our goal instead is to be flexible, to target the places with the greatest need, and to direct our resources to where they can do the most good.
I'd like to talk for a minute about some of the ways that we have done that.
Over the past few years, the Department has spent a lot of time visiting with and listening to police officers and city officials around the country, to learn as much as we can about the specifics of our crime problems and how best to solve them. We've put a lot of work into coming up with new ideas and matching our existing programs and resources with community needs.
We have expanded federal cooperation with state and local law enforcement to bring the full authority of the federal system to bear on violent criminals.
For example, we've launched more fugitive sweeps and coordinated takedowns to catch offenders who had been running around free—because every criminal taken off the streets is one less committing new crimes. Last summer, the Department coordinated another round of Operation FALCON, which stands for Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally.
As part of a massive fugitive dragnet in 27 cities across the country, Deputy U.S. Marshals teamed up with their state, local, and federal colleagues and arrested more than 6,400 fugitives. Doug Palmer's police department in Trenton, New Jersey, was at the forefront of the operation there last July, which resulted in the arrest of 248 fugitives and the seizure of 128 firearms. Results like that can have a real impact on making neighborhoods safer.
Last year, we also supported Fugitive Safe Surrender operations in four cities, including here in Washington, D.C., during which a total of 3,700 fugitives turned themselves in at churches or other neutral settings.
Some of your communities, moreover, face a terrible gang problem—either from organized international groups like MS-13, or from local, loosely knit "street crews." To combat this problem, each U.S. Attorney's Office has appointed an Anti-Gang Coordinator to work with local law enforcement and focus our assistance in their district. They're working with our National Gang Intelligence Center and our new National Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center to collect intelligence from the field and make sure it's being shared with other agencies and cities that need it.
We also expanded our Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative from six to ten separate places nationwide. Under this program, localities experiencing a significant gang problem were given $2.5 million each to bring together three essential strategies: prevention, prosecution, and prisoner re-entry.
Focused enforcement efforts under that program have shown promising early results. In one of the cities—Rochester, New York—Mayor Bob Duffy's police department helped target resources toward reducing gang violence in the "Crescent" area of town, where more than 90 percent of Rochester's documented gang activity was concentrated.
Next week, the Department will hold its first comprehensive anti-gang training for state and local police and other partners. This training will help us spread the word to more places and more police departments about what's working in cities and towns across the country, and how we can help.
Because the local knowledge of mayors and police chiefs is far more valuable than broad policy declarations from Washington, last year we made $75 million in grant money available to states and localities to fund task forces. This puts money in your hands, so you can target the types of crime that are having the biggest impact on your city.
We also have targeted the worst of the worst offenders by expanding some of our most successful cooperative programs to more cities. These are programs many of you already participate in. For example, under Project Safe Neighborhoods, we’re working together with state and local authorities in a comprehensive effort to deter and punish gun crime. Our ATF-led Violent Crime Impact Teams have also sought to identify, target, and arrest violent criminals to reduce the occurrence of firearm-related crimes. Through the Safe Streets Task Forces, the FBI has focused on dismantling organized gangs by addressing them as criminal enterprises.
All of these efforts showcase how we can work together to take criminals off the streets and make our citizens safer.
Before I conclude, I want to take a moment to talk about one other issue that I think will have an important impact on many of your cities. That is the decision of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to apply retroactively a new—and lower—guideline sentencing range for crack cocaine offenses.
Now, I have my own concerns about this issue from a prosecutor’s point of view. But apart from that, I also have concerns about how this decision could affect our joint fight against crime.
This is not an academic exercise. Under these provisions, nearly 1,600 convicted criminals, many of them violent gang members, may be eligible for immediate release into the community.
Before we take that step, we need to think long and hard about whether that's the best way to go about this—whether it best serves the interests of justice and public safety.
A sudden influx of criminals from federal prison into your communities could lead to a surge in new victims as a tragic, but predictable, result.
Furthermore, we simply may not have done all the work we need to do to prepare those eligible for immediate release for re-entry into society. For example, that offender may not have the opportunity to participate in recommended transitional programs like community confinement.
We need to do all we can in education, job training, drug treatment, housing, and other re-entry preparation for all of these offenders who could be released. We need time to develop all of that and to roll it out—time that blanket retroactivity might not allow us.
As I mentioned at the outset of my remarks, we intend to build on the success we had together in 2007 and provide you the resources you need to do your jobs effectively. To strengthen our joint efforts, the President will ask Congress for an additional $200 million in funding for the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership as part of the Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2009. This initiative will help communities address their specific violent crime challenges, especially where multiple jurisdictions are involved.
We'll be able to send targeted resources where they are needed the most and where they show the most promise. Through close coordination, we also can avoid needless duplication and free up resources to help more cities.
Although your resources, and the Department’s, are not without limits, you should know that I am dedicated to doing all I can to help. I respect and value the pivotal role you play in law enforcement in this country, and the doors of the Department are always open to you.
When it comes time to prosecute, the Department of Justice is committed to working collaboratively to do whatever will have the greatest effect. If that means we bring federal charges because the case is stronger in federal court or the sentences are tougher, I want it to be a federal case. If state law works out better, I want that case handed over for state prosecution.
I am not interested in who gets the credit, or whose statistics count the case. I’m interested in doing what needs to be done to reduce crime. If we succeed, we will all share the credit.