Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I understand you have a full agenda over the next few days, including meetings up on Capitol Hill, and I appreciate that you could make time for me to come speak with you.
I’ve just been talking with Chuck Canterbury, Jim Pasco, and other members of your leadership about some of the issues that matter a great deal to all of us in law enforcement, at the federal, state, and local levels. Before I go any further, I want to tell you what I told them: Thank you for all that you do. Not just for your support of the Department of Justice and the tools that help law enforcement like the Protect America Act, but for what each of you does every day back home.
It is humbling to address a room full of people who do what you do for a living, knowing that I carry a pen and wear a suit, while you carry guns and wear body armor. There are many issues that the Fraternal Order of Police cares about that coincide with the priorities of the Department of Justice. Among the most prominent is our shared goal of reducing violent crime in America’s towns and cities.
It should not come as news to anyone in this room that the Department has done a lot to try to get at the root of the violent crime problem in this country, and to help police officers do what is needed to keep our communities safe. We are proud of these efforts, and grateful for your organization’s participation and leadership.
For example, last fall the Department awarded $75 million to local law enforcement task forces to target specific violent crime challenges. We expect to have even more resources in the future. The President requested $200 million in fiscal year 2009 to support targeted task force efforts in the communities with the most need.
Of course, the Department does not have unlimited funds, but we are addressing the underlying challenges by targeting our resources in a coherent way. We know that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the violent crime problem. Rather than issue a series of mandates, we are going to be flexible and allow local authorities to focus their efforts on the problems that most threaten their cities and towns, whether it is gangs, guns or human trafficking. In short, we want to get funding where funding can best be used, and we’ve sought to increase our ability to pinpoint those areas.
Last fall I attended the opening of the National Gang Targeting, Enforcement and Coordination Center (Gang TECC) and the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). Together, these two centers work in a unified, national effort to help disrupt and dismantle the most significant and violent gangs in the United States. The agents are supported in this mission by prosecutors across the country in the United States Attorneys Offices and the Criminal Division’s new Gang Squad created in 2006, a specialized group of federal prosecutors charged with developing and implementing strategies to target, attack and dismantle the most significant national and transnational gangs operating in the United States. Last year, in four major GangTECC coordinated takedowns involving agents from DEA, USMS, FBI, ATF, and ICE, more than 1,480 defendants were arrested and more than 259 of them were documented gang members. This is just one example of how the Department is seeking to focus its resources and efforts to obtain the best results.
I would like to talk for a moment about another important program: Hometown Heroes. Frankly, we were slow out of the gate on that program and we should have done better. But, you will be pleased to hear that we have made a lot of progress. Since September of last year, we've worked to make the process more efficient and have tripled the number of Hometown Heroes cases decided. We have issued directives that clarify the program, resulting in the tripling of the percentage of approvals, which is now greater than 50 percent.
The Hometown Heroes program was designed, in part, to alleviate some of the worries that law enforcement officers might have about who would care for their families if something happened. The Department is committed to the fair and efficient implementation of Hometown Heroes and will continue to make any necessary improvements.
Before I conclude, I want to take a few minutes to talk about another issue on which the Department and the Fraternal Order of Police see eye-to-eye: the sentencing of prisoners convicted of crack cocaine offenses versus those for powder cocaine.
First, I want to thank you for your efforts in this area. I want specifically to thank your National President Chuck Canterbury for his testimony on this subject before Congress.
I also want to take this opportunity to address the continued misperceptions about those defendants who will be eligible for release. The Department has said repeatedly that the crack offenders eligible for retroactive application of the lower guidelines are some of the most serious and violent offenders in the federal system. Despite some recent articles suggesting otherwise, the Sentencing Commission’s own numbers show that to be true. In October of last year, the Sentencing Commission issued a memorandum entitled “Analysis of the Impact of the Crack Cocaine Amendment If Made Retroactive.” That memorandum set forth a number of troubling statistics. Just last Friday, the Department received from the Commission updated statistics that continue to give us concern.
Commission statistics show that:
• Nearly 80% of those eligible for retroactivity have a prior criminal record. This tells us those who are eligible for early release are very likely to commit another crime.
• The average amount of crack trafficked by those eligible for retroactivity is more than 50 grams, which is roughly equivalent to 500 doses. This tells us that those eligible were not incarcerated for one-rock hand-to-hand sales.
• Nearly 95% of those eligible for release are male. We believe that this statistic will help to alleviate the concern expressed by some that the eligible offenders were simply “girlfriends just caught up with their boyfriends.”
• Similarly, the current statistics show that less than 5% of the eligible defenders received a mitigating role adjustment at the time of sentencing. That tells us that the Judges who sentenced these offenders did not believe they were peripheral players or helpless addicts forced into a drug ring.
I understand that well-intentioned people can view statistics differently. But, these statistics are important for two reasons. First, they confirm what the Department has seen in the field and what our prosecutors have experienced in court. These offenders are often violent criminals who are likely to repeat their criminal activities. Second, these statistics – all taken from the Commission’s own study – undermine the allegations that there are great numbers of one-time crack users who were simply caught in the wrong place and the wrong time. Furthermore, the Department has suggested a way to address that concern: Congress should limit the retroactivity so that only first time, non-violent offenders could have their sentences reduced, and the amount of the reduction could not surpass the two-levels allowed by the Commission. This would address the Department’s public safety concern and allow any non-violent offenders to be released early, and permit those who need it to get the benefit of the Bureau of Prisons’ pre-release programs that help prevent or at least diminish the incidence of recidivism.
With respect to the crack-powder sentencing ratio itself, the Department has acknowledged that honest men and women can disagree about what the appropriate sentences should be for these crimes, and how they should differ from sentences for other drug crimes. The Department is committed to being a part of those discussions and to helping develop fair and just punishment for crimes committed in the future. But we believe that any reforms in the area of crack sentences have to satisfy two important conditions: First, any reforms should come from Congress, not the Sentencing Commission; and second, reforms should not be applied retroactively.
Action must be taken, and it must be taken soon. I was gratified to hear that Senator Biden has expressed a willingness to work with us on this issue, and we look forward to more conversations with him and his colleagues about it.
Regardless of what action is or is not taken by Congress, the Department of Justice will do its job, and you, the members of law enforcement, will do yours. Every day, the men and women in police departments throughout the country put on a uniform to protect and to serve our neighbors and our communities. You and your colleagues make our country safer in ways large and small, and you do it without regard to whether you get your name in the paper, or get a plaque, or a standing ovation. When it comes to attacking violent crime, I don’t care who gets the credit. I care only about the results. With your continued support and efforts, we can achieve these results. And if we do, we will all get the credit.