Thank you, Laurie [Robinson]. I appreciate your kind words, and I am especially grateful for the outstanding leadership that you and Jim [Burch] are providing in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs and Bureau of Justice Assistance.
I also want to thank the entire BJA team, and your colleagues in OJP, for your work in organizing this conference. You have developed an ambitious, and comprehensive, agenda. And you have brought together more than one thousand of the Justice Department’s most indispensible partners.
It is a pleasure to join you. And it’s a special privilege to thank you all for the contributions, and sacrifices, that you are making – in every corner of this country; in every area of justice administration; at every level of government; and in urban, rural and tribal communities.
I want to echo what Jim and Laurie have already said: This conference is a unique opportunity – a chance to forge and reinforce relationships, to share effective strategies, and to help ensure the strength and integrity of our justice system.
It’s been more than a decade since BJA hosted a conference of this size and scope. And I’m grateful that so many of you were willing to travel long distances to participate. You represent many different disciplines and unique communities. But, collectively, your work allows our federal, state, local and tribal governments to meet their most important responsibilities – to protect the safety, and to defend the rights, of the American people.
This conference has been convened – and I am here – to support you in this work, to help you meet your goals and obligations, to strengthen the partnerships that we’ve established, and to build on the progress that – together – we have made.
I rely heavily on OJP and BJA to ensure that federal, state, local and tribal leaders, stakeholders, and law enforcement partners are heard. Your involvement and insights help to shape Department priorities and strategies. Shortly after I became Attorney General, I invited state and local law enforcement leaders to the Justice Department to meet with me. And with you at the discussion table – listening, questioning and providing your perspectives and expertise – we have been able to make remarkable progress over the last 22 months.
Today, across the country, crime is down. Over the past year, violent crime has decreased by more than five percent.
As Secretary Napolitano mentioned yesterday, with the assistance of law enforcement and community partners, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are increasingly able to provide an accurate picture of emerging – as well as urgent – threats. And by encouraging and streamlining information sharing, we have improved our ability to respond to disasters and – as we’ve seen numerous times this year – to disrupt potentially devastating terror plots.
In communities nationwide, we are seeing the promise – and benefits – of the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative that BJA leads and that Secretary Napolitano and others discussed yesterday. I want to note that this initiative was designed with your input and involvement – and with your needs in mind. And I want to reiterate that, in implementing the SAR Initiative, BJA has worked to ensure that the privacy concerns many of you have expressed are fully addressed. I understand that encouraging suspicious activity reporting without ever – ever – jeopardizing civil liberties and privacy rights is critically important to you. And I want you to know that it is equally important to me – and to this Department of Justice.
Now, not only is your input helping to shape national security and public safety strategies, your cooperation is also helping to combat hate crimes, financial fraud and violent crime. You are bringing critical support to victims – and developing innovative solutions to address gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence. You are working to improve our courts and corrections systems – and to ensure that veterans, juveniles, the indigent and people struggling with substance abuse and mental health challenges can access the legal services that they need and deserve. You are calling for evidence-based solutions and conducting much-needed research. And you are studying, not just the consequences of crime, but also the symptoms and sources. You are working to protect the safety – and to help meet the needs – of our nation’s law enforcement officers. And you are reaching across disciplines and jurisdictions to avoid duplication, to share information, and – in this time of growing challenges and shrinking budgets – to accomplish more with less. And this is just a snapshot of all that you are helping to achieve.
In each of these ways and many others, you are strengthening our nation’s justice system – as well as the work of our nation’s Justice Department. Today, I want to note a few of the recent achievements that have resulted from your engagement and hard work.
With your help, I’m proud to report that we have restored funding for the Byrne JAG program. Prior to fiscal year 2009, program funding levels were less than $200 million. That wasn’t good enough for you, for me or for this Administration. Today, Byrne JAG funding totals more than $500 million. And we are also providing technical assistance to help states make strategic funding decisions and to incorporate evidence-based practices wherever possible.
In Indianapolis, Byrne JAG funds are being used to provide transitional jobs and employment readiness programs for prisoners so that – once they pay their debts to society – these men and women are prepared, and well equipped, to contribute to the success of the communities they enter. Supporting effective reentry programs is a priority. These programs make a difference in strengthening public safety; reducing recidivism, corrections costs and crime rates; and saving taxpayer dollars. And they are complementing the excellent work being done through BJA’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which brings state and local partners together to study justice system policies and operations and – ultimately – to identify ways to generate savings.
In addition to this initiative, many of you have also supported efforts to promote greater information sharing between federal, state, local and tribal agencies. I saw this first hand when I met with the Executive Committee of the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative – a BJA-supported meeting ground for more than 30 national criminal and juvenile justice organizations. This model of governance – and the idea that, to make the best national-level decisions possible, state and local leadership must be part of the process – has been tremendously successful in fostering communication and collaboration. That’s why we have encouraged its replication in other areas that matter to you – including the development of recommendations related to the National Broadband Communications Plan.
In February, many of you were among the 500-plus attendees at the national Indigent Defense Summit that BJA and OJP helped to organize. Our discussions there helped to inform the great work that’s been accomplished by the Justice Department’s landmark Access to Justice Initiative. As many of you know, in March, we established a new – and permanent – office dedicated entirely to addressing the indigent defense crisis, to expanding access to legal services, and to ensuring fairness in our nation’s justice system.
And earlier this year – in this very room – some of you attended a unique meeting hosted by the American Probation and Parole Association. Here, corrections professionals and crime victims came together to discuss ways in which local justice systems can more effectively engage victims in improving public safety. As a result of this meeting, BJA made modifications to a key funding program that reflected the input of these survivors. This is another example of the ways that BJA is working to listen to you – and to help the Justice Department support your needs.
Creating opportunities to bridge perspectives and share expertise is something that BJA does often – and incredibly well. And I am glad to hear that more than 200 of you will be seizing an opportunity that BJA is hosting tomorrow to address intellectual property crime. We now have 15 state and local task forces focusing with us on this very serious issue. And tomorrow, Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler – along with Victoria Espinel, the White House’s Intellectual Property Crime Enforcement Coordinator – will discuss some of the specific challenges facing state, local and tribal justice organizations – as well as the unique opportunities that you have to help prevent and combat IP crimes.
So I urge your participation tomorrow – and I am relying on your continued engagement in the days ahead.
While it’s true that we have made significant progress together, we cannot yet be satisfied or become complacent. And we cannot ignore the unfortunate fact that threats to our people, to our neighborhoods and to our national security remain a significant problem.
Yes, national violent crime rates may have dipped. But there are areas where the reduction numbers mean nothing – where children are accustomed to the sounds of gunshots; where young people are lured into gangs; where funerals outnumber weddings.
Today, the majority of our kids – more than 60 percent – have been exposed to crime, abuse and violence. And young adults – our 18- to 24-year-olds – experience homicide rates 2 ½ times higher than any other demographic. Since 2002, gun-related homicides have increased each year. And, since last year, the number of police officers killed by gun violence has surged by more than 40 percent. If current trends continue, 2010 could end as one of the deadliest years for law enforcement in more than two decades.
You know what we’re up against. And you understand what’s at stake. You are on the front lines of our most urgent and complex public safety and justice system challenges. And I am determined to work with you to build upon the progress that you have helped to achieve.
I believe that meeting my goals begins by listening to you, by learning from you and by ensuring that you have the resources necessary to do your jobs well. Last year, when I became Attorney General, I pledged to defend our Constitution, to adhere to the rule of law, to safeguard civil rights and to protect the safety of our people and the security of our nation. Your work makes it possible for me to fulfill my responsibilities – and to keep my word.
For the Bureau of Justice Assistance, for the Office of Justice Programs, for the Justice Department’s senior leadership and for me – supporting your work and strengthening our partnerships is, and will remain, a top priority.
Thank you all, once again, for your participation today. It has been a pleasure to join you and a privilege to salute your work. I am proud of – and grateful to – you all. And I look forward to what we will accomplish together – now and in the future.