Hello all and thank you for that kind introduction. It is a privilege for me to be here with you today. As I look out, I see many colleagues and partners who have dedicated themselves to the work of the Department of Justice and to Project Safe Neighborhoods. My thanks to you for all that you have done, and for giving me the honor of hosting the Project Safe Neighborhoods 2010 Awards Ceremony, as we celebrate the outstanding achievements of those individuals, districts and organizations that are committed to the safety of all of our communities. I also want to thank U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and his staff for this terrific New Orleans hospitality.
One of the best things about my job in Washington, is actually getting out of Washington. I so appreciate the opportunity to spend time with the men and women across the country who dedicate themselves to making our communities and neighborhoods more supportive places for our children and our families to grow and to prosper. Every day, you are on the frontlines on the streets of America. You know, better than most, the toll that gun and gang violence has on our communities, in our schools and playgrounds, and on our streets. That’s why you serve as not only the very best role models, but the very best mentors and partners.
What makes Project Safe Neighborhoods so unique as an initiative is that it relies on teamwork that goes beyond law enforcement. A truly successful PSN campaign is one which engages federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement and partners their strategies with community-based organizations that have a pulse on what works – and more importantly what deters and prevents – in their neighborhoods.
No two PSN initiatives are the same – that’s what makes this program so exciting. PSN is a community-program that is focused on the unique challenges of our very different urban, suburban, rural and tribal communities. PSN brings together law enforcement strategies, community-based policing, strategic prosecution, and anti-gang initiatives with the resources of social service providers, our educational system, faith-based organizations, government and charitable foundations – all of which are committed to creating and sustaining safe neighborhoods.
One of the issues that I know you have heard about already during this year’s conference is that the future of PSN relies on innovative, evidence-based community partnerships. After 8 years, there are many lessons learned that you can share with your colleagues. Maybe there are things you would have done differently, different or new groups you would have invited to the table, or different tactics you would have employed. This is an opportunity to renew coalitions, shift focus if needed, and most importantly, re-evaluate your strategies and their successes within your community.
But today, we celebrate and highlight the work you have done that has truly made a difference. We know that under the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, five key elements have been deemed essential to creating a successful gun violence reduction program: partnerships among local, state and federal components; the formulation of a strategic plan to target the specific needs and issues of your district; coordination of resources to provide training opportunities for components involved in the strategic plan; community outreach and awareness campaigns to educate the community about local PSN efforts; and accountability to ensure that components are continually reassessing their program’s strengths and weaknesses.
Our awardees were selected because the individuals or groups demonstrated not only a commitment to these five elements, but because they took their initiative a step further. As we as a department move toward not only innovative but evidence-based programs, we focused on PSN projects that included the development of new and unique gun crime and gang prevention policies, programs or funding strategies. We looked at PSN efforts that are sustainable and focused on long-term strategies, not just quick fixes for the short-term. We also looked at the numbers. Which programs have proven successful in reducing gun crime and gangs? Where did we see the largest improvements for the time, resources and efforts put into a community or project?
But as Benjamin Franklin – the Founding Father who organized the first effective police force in America – once said, "A good example is the best sermon." And so, in our remaining time, I’d like to offer you something even better: two incredible examples.
Our first begins in 2001, just under one thousand miles from here, in the Eastern District of North Carolina. For the past decade, that district – the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Overall Partnership or Task Force award – has done everything right. And as a direct result, they have saved families, saved neighborhoods, and saved lives.
The Eastern District’s Project Safe Neighborhoods is called "Zero Tolerance for Gun Violence." But the rhyming mantra is much more than rhetoric. It is a philosophy of prevention that every attorney, agent, and staff there has internalized – and acted on every day. Just consider that since 2001, the district’s PSN initiative has prosecuted more than 2,100 defendants. That’s fourth nationwide in federal firearms prosecutions. And now consider that they have done it with fewer than 45 AUSAs. Incredible – like I said.
But why, exactly, has the Eastern District of North Carolina been so successful? The answer is in the details – within the many different neighborhoods and on the many different streets. First, the district has taken an unapologetically community-tailored approach. Since the initiative’s inception, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has formed eleven Project Safe Neighborhoods task forces, each for a different region. They coordinate regularly but act independently. They strategize in joint meetings but value flexibility above all. They share great ideas often but adapt to changing circumstances daily.
Such shrewd tailoring remains on proud display today in Raleigh. After that city saw in 2007 and 2008 a sudden and dramatic upswing in violent Hobbs Act robberies and other violent crimes, including murders, the Raleigh task force adapted immediately – and engaged in a second practice worth highlighting: they brought all the community’s law enforcement together. And they led them with the vigor and vision safety demands.
The task force partnered with the Raleigh Police Department to review relevant cases. They sought the help of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which agreed to adopt many of the cases so the full resources of the federal government – and the lengthier sentences called for by federal law – were in play. They engaged the media – another hallmark of a successful Safe Neighborhoods program – and sent a message that violent crimes would be vigorously prosecuted. And, through all these efforts, they fostered unprecedented collaboration that led to so dramatic a reduction in violent crime that the city’s murder rate and gang-related-incident rate plummeted in 2009 by approximately fifty percent.
But there’s a fourth takeaway here – that, despite all I’ve just said, prosecution is only part of the equation. Ever proactive, the Eastern District of North Carolina focuses on training and prevention, as well. They host conferences, provide roll-call training, and offer specialized sessions based on changing regional needs. They train senior executives and staff on the front lines alike. And they sponsor programs tackling everything from gang prevention to bullying prevention – and everyone from at-risk youth to the entire community, through, to take my favorite example, an outdoor summer movie series.
Such techniques are working in North Carolina. And they are working also in Massachusetts, where my second example was founded. More than a decade ago, in 1998, the Salvation Army launched its truly innovative "Bridging the Gap" program in Springfield to help court-involved and at-risk youth to get their lives on track through a twelve-week program focusing on the effects of drug and alcohol, peer pressure, life at school, anger management, self-esteem, and relationships. But that’s not all. Crucially, the program makes family participation mandatory and works with parents to address – and destroy – the underlying factors that precipitated their child’s arrest in the first place.
This commitment to family engagement – and the focus on early prevention – is only one of many reasons why "Bridging the Gap" won this year’s Outstanding Juvenile Program award – which, as the numbers show, is well deserved. Of the more than 2,100 juveniles who have participated in Springfield’s Bridging the Gap program over the past twelve years, for example, 87 percent either remained in school or graduated without re-offending or facing more police interaction. That’s huge for any city, but it is especially so for Springfield, which suffers from the highest rate of gun assaults per one hundred thousand residents, a drop-out rate double the statewide average, a daily absentee rate of nearly twenty percent, and a gang population of nearly 500 members and associates.
But, once again demonstrating the power of partnership, "Bridging the Gap" – which has since expanded far beyond Springfield – has not done anything alone. They have developed constructive, interactive partnerships with numerous government and service-related entities as wide-ranging as the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the YMCA, the police department and the public schools.
And throughout, the program has also served as a great example of what happens when evidence-based – that is, proven and tested – techniques are applied to Project Safe Neighborhoods funding. Under PSN funding, "Bridging the Gap" created "Operation Closing the Gap," in collaboration with the Springfield police and the Hampden County D.A.’s office. The operation extends the original program’s proven approach with new focus on gang intervention, suppression, and prevention. And, thanks to mentors that each student is assigned, the positive outcomes are reinforced long after the program ends, resulting in lasting – and not fleeting – self-control and safety.
These two examples, like all of our awardees, employ the five key elements of successful Project Safe Neighborhoods programs that I outlined earlier. But whatever methods are used program to program, there is one thing that remains consistent across all: that Project Safe Neighborhoods is built upon the commitment and personal integrity of the people in this room. It is the law enforcement officer who investigates the crime, while becoming a friend to the people who live and work in his or her precinct. It is the school resource officer who helps a young boy or girl to resist the temptations of gang life. It is the community leader who insists that public safety is a community right.
At the end of the day, PSN is a pledge: it’s a pledge made by each and every one of you in this room to work for safe communities and a quality of life that enables all of our citizens to live, work and play together as neighbors and friends. Thank you for all that you do, all that you have sacrificed, and all that you will continue to do in the name of public and community safety.