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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference
Chicago ~ Monday, October 24, 2011

Thank you, Mark [Marshall].   It is an honor to stand with you today – and to salute the leadership that you have provided over the past year, as well as the example that you have set for IACP’s next President.  

 

Every person in this room – and, especially, the leaders on this stage – can be proud of the fact that, as IACP “forges forward” and begins an exciting new chapter, this association is starting from a position of strength.   Not only is IACP our nation’s oldest and largest law enforcement organization.   It is also the most influential, and – many would argue – the most essential.

 

Although I know he’d never claim his share of credit for this achievement, the progress that IACP has made – and helped to lead – in recent years simply would not have been possible without Dan Rosenblatt.   Throughout his 25 years as Executive Director, Dan has breathed new life into the IACP’s founding principles of collaboration, innovation, and integrity.   He has also served as an essential partner to our nation’s Department of Justice.

 

During my tenure as Deputy Attorney General and now as Attorney General, Dan has been a trusted advisor to me – and a tireless advocate for law enforcement officials nationwide.   He has called attention to the need for cutting-edge research and tools; paved the way for new levels of cooperation, transparency, and efficiency; and helped to drive significant improvements in national public safety efforts.

 

Dan, I am grateful to count you as a steadfast colleague and a good friend.   And I am proud to join with IACP’s Board of Directors, leadership team, members, and many supporters in thanking you for your service – and your enduring contributions.

 

I also want to thank you for, once again, including me in this annual conference.   Each year, I look forward to this event – and to the opportunity to hear from, and to learn from, some of the most active and effective police chiefs in the country, as well as law enforcement innovators from around the world.

 

But, above all, I appreciate the chance to say “thank you” – in person, and on behalf of the entire Justice Department and Obama Administration – to each and every one of you.

 

As our nation’s Attorney General, as a prosecutor and former judge, and as the brother of a retired police officer, I am extremely grateful – for your service, for your courage, for your commitment to the objectives that we share, and for your contributions to the achievements that we celebrate this week.

 

When I look back at the goals we set two years ago in Denver, and at the initiatives we unveiled last year in Orlando, it’s clear that what we have accomplished together – in the face of unprecedented threats and economic challenges – is nothing short of historic.

 

Because of your efforts, national crime trends are heading in the right direction.   In our inner cities, rural areas, and tribal communities, neighborhoods have been transformed.   Countless lives have been improved and saved.   And, despite growing budget constraints and increasing demands, so many of your precincts and departments are not simply surviving.   They are thriving.

 

In fulfilling your essential duties, you’ve also proven the power and importance of recent investments in research and technology.   You’ve shown how the critical work of state and local Fusion Centers and Joint Terrorism Task Forces is making a difference – and allowing law enforcement officers at all levels, and across borders and jurisdictions, to communicate more quickly and “connect the dots” more effectively.

 

I’m especially proud of your efforts to ensure the success of the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange – what we all call “N-DEx” – as well as the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, known as “NSI.”   The Bureau of Justice Assistance is leading the way on NSI – and administering this vital initiative in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security.

 

In launching NSI two year ago, we were guided by three key principles: partnership, prevention, and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.   By fostering increased partnership among law enforcement agencies, as well as private-sector entities, NSI is allowing officers to connect suspicious, but seemingly disparate, pieces of information.   As a result, potential terror attacks are being identified – and prevented.   And NSI’s strong privacy and civil rights protections are reinforcing the fact that effective security efforts need not compromise our most essential values.  

 

I hope – and I expect – that you will continue to make suspicious activity reporting a priority, and a common practice, in the departments you lead.   And I assure you that the Justice Department will continue to support – and work to enhance and expand – your ability to do just that.

 

We’ll also keep up – and build on – current efforts to provide you with access to the cutting-edge tools and information-sharing capabilities that you need.   I know that, this week, you’ll be learning more about some of the innovations already underway – including the FBI’s new public safety applications – that, I believe, will help take your work to the next level.

 

And when it comes to meeting your communications needs, let me assure you that the Justice Department has not – and will not – let up on our efforts to ensure that you have meaningful, affordable access to radio spectrum when and where you need it.   This is my promise.

 

With outstanding leadership from Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson and her team in the Office of Justice Programs, and from Director Barney Melekian and his colleagues in our COPS Office – we’re continuing to work in partnership with the White House and the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce to advance discussions concerning the public safety broadband network and the future of the D-Block.  And – for as long as it takes – we’ll continue bringing together policymakers and leaders from law enforcement, the broader public safety community, and the telecommunications industry to determine a path forward.

 

That’s because, at every level of the Justice Department, we understand that our ongoing success will depend on how well we support – and effectively partner with – federal, state, local, tribal, and even international, law enforcement agencies.   We also recognize that tomorrow’s progress will depend on our ability – through initiatives ranging from our OJP grant programs, to the COPS hiring program, to President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act – to save and create first responder jobs; and to provide the resources necessary to help you do your jobs effectively – and safely.

 

Of course – as cities, states, and counties confront once-in-a-century financial constraints – this has never been more difficult.   Across the country, mayors, sheriffs, and chiefs have been asked – not only to do more with less – but also to make painful budgetary cuts.

 

According to a new economic outlook report that our COPS office released this week – we expect that, by the end of this year, nearly 12,000 police officers and sheriff’s deputies will have been laid off.   This report is available online; or from the COPS team at Booth #2055; or from Director Melekian, who’s carrying several copies around – in fact, Barney, could you hold one up for us, please?

 

The findings included in this new report show that law enforcement agencies nationwide have nearly 30,000 unfilled vacancies.   In 25 years of collecting data, we are now seeing the first-ever national decrease in law enforcement positions.

 

But block by block, city by city, department by department, the Administration is determined – and I am determined – to help build capacity, to enable our law enforcement partners to make the most of precious resources, and to encourage their most promising and effective public safety efforts.   In advancing these goals, I am proud to report that, last month, Director Melekian announced more than $240 million in new COPS Office grants to support the hiring and retention of more than a thousand officers in 238 agencies and municipalities across the country.

 

And while I’m excited to see what many of you will be able to accomplish with these investments – we have not, and will not, forget about the remaining 2,300 agencies that also submitted worthy grant applications.   In fact, total requests for COPS hiring dollars were over $2 billion – a staggering demand when compared to the funds allocated this year.

 

Today, some of you are looking hopefully to the President’s proposed jobs bill, which would offer $4 billion for law enforcement hiring through the COPS Office.   The Senate has proposed $200 million; and the House has zeroed out the allocation completely.   That is a dangerous, drastic and unacceptable gap – one that can’t be closed without your immediate attention and assistance.  

 

I know that many of you are now working – through IACP and through your individual departments – to help tip the balance and ensure the future of COPS Office funding.   This is not an effort for next year.   This is not something that can wait.   And, no matter what, I assure you that the Justice Department is – and will continue to be – engaged in working to bring our law enforcement partners the resources that you need and deserve.

 

But, in addition to helping you meet your most urgent needs, I also want to assure you that the Department remains committed to your ongoing success – as well as your safety.  

 

Since we gathered for last year’s conference, our nation has mourned the loss of 175 officers.   Law enforcement fatalities are nearly 20 percent higher than this time last year.   And gunfire deaths have increased by nearly 30 percent.   Today, line-of-duty officer deaths are approaching the highest rates we’ve seen in almost two decades.

 

This is a devastating and unacceptable trend.   And each of these deaths is a tragic reminder of the threats that law enforcement officers face each day – and the fact that too many guns have fallen into the hands of those who are not legally permitted to possess them.

 

Here in Chicago, last November, you experienced the most violent week against law enforcement in this city’s history.   And, like so many other departments represented here today, you have mourned the loss of too many dedicated colleagues – and friends.

 

But I am proud to say that the Justice Department is determined – and I am determined – to turn back this rising tide, to meet increased violence with renewed vigilance, and to do everything within our power – and use every tool at our disposal – to keep you and your colleagues safe.  

 

That’s a promise – one that the Department is backing up with critical new programs – including our Officer Safety Initiative.   Many of you are already familiar with the training programs and information-sharing platforms it is promoting.   For those who aren’t, I encourage you to visit the initiative’s new website, which we launched just last week.   In case Laurie hasn’t already given you the address, it’s: www.bja.gov/officersafety.

 

Beyond this, in partnership with the COPS Office – as well as IACP and other leading law enforcement organizations – BJA has established the Officer Safety & Wellness Working Group, which – I’m pleased to report – met for the first time several weeks ago.   We’re also standing behind this commitment with significant, strategic investments – to numerous officer safety programs, including BJA’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program.

 

In just the first eight months of this year, body armor saved the lives of more than 20 law enforcement and corrections officers – and half of these vests were purchased with the help of BVP funds.   In addition to this life-saving program, we also are seeing promising results from the VALOR initiative that I announced at last year’s conference.  

 

Through VALOR, the Department is supporting much-needed research and analysis of violent encounters, as well as officer deaths and injuries.   This information will be used to provide law enforcement with the latest information, and the most effective tools and training, to respond to a range of threats – including ambush-style assaults.  

 

VALOR also includes an award of $800,000 that has been allocated to develop training and technical assistance programs – and resources like the Officer Safety Toolkit, which we released this year – to help officers learn how to anticipate and survive violent encounters.

 

We’ve also made significant investments to help launch the Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police, and to provide additional support for the families of law enforcement officers – especially in times of tragedy.   And I’m proud to report that we have expanded the Department’s Smart Policing program – a true success story in fighting crime with innovative and evidence-based strategies – to 12 new sites.   This brings the total number of demonstration sites to 28.   And, every day, their work is advancing the Department’s ongoing efforts to be, not just tough, but smart on crime.

 

Of course, this progress has not come easily.   It is the product of your leadership and partnership – and the tireless efforts that Laurie, Barney, their teams, and so many others across the Department have provided.

 

But – as proud as we are of what has been achieved in recent years – let me assure you: we are not yet satisfied.   And, at every level of the Justice Department, we – I -- will never stop fighting for you.

 

Although I realize that we have a great deal of work before us – and more obstacles than we would like to see – as I look around this room, I can’t help but feel optimistic.

 

You represent the very best of our nation’s law enforcement community.   And, in big cities and small towns all across the country, you have proven that – if we commit ourselves to it – progress is possible.   And even the largest and most persistent obstacles can be overcome.

 

I am proud to count each of you as my colleagues and partners.   I am honored to join you in strengthening the work that – for nearly 120 years – IACP has helped to advance.   I look forward to seeing you all in San Diego next year.   But more than anything, I am excited about what we can, and will, accomplish – together – in the days ahead.  

 

Thank you.

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