Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Director [Barney] Melekian, for those kind words and for your outstanding leadership of the COPS Office. I’d also like to thank Mayor [Mark] Mallory – for your warm welcome, and for your tireless efforts to ensure that your hometown is not only a great place to live and work, but also an example for cities nationwide.
On behalf of my colleagues across the Department of Justice, I am grateful for your leadership in advancing the public safety goals that we share, and for your steadfast support of this city’s law enforcement community.
Today, I am honored to be joined by so many of Cincinnati’s finest. And I’d like to congratulate your new Chief of Police, James Craig, for the steps that – already – he has taken to continue Cincinnati’s record of progress in meeting community safety challenges with innovative, aggressive, and collaborative solutions.
As we gather this afternoon to discuss the future of this city’s police department, it is fitting that we do so here – at the Police Academy where, in many ways, that future will take shape; and where so many of this city’s law enforcement leaders were tested, trained, and sworn into the most critical of duties.
Because of what many of you learned and experienced here, you have been able to face – and to overcome – significant, unprecedented obstacles, as well as increasingly sophisticated criminal threats. Although your jobs have never been tougher, your resolve is unmatched – and your renewed focus on developing cutting-edge policing strategies, inviting community stakeholders into the work of fighting crime, and building trust between officers and local residents – has improved public confidence in law enforcement throughout the Cincinnati metropolitan area. It has also bolstered the integrity of our entire criminal justice system, and helped to advance the Justice Department’s most essential mission: protecting the American people.
This afternoon, I am here, not only to salute your outstanding contributions – and to recognize the sacrifices that you make each day. I am also here to pledge, on behalf of the President and the entire Administration, that we will continue to stand with you, to seek ways to support you, and to fight for the resources that you need to do your jobs both safely and effectively.
Of course – as cities, states, and counties confront once-in-a-century financial constraints – making good on this promise has never been more difficult. I understand that mayors, sheriffs, and chiefs across the country have been asked – not only to do more with less – but also to make painful budgetary cuts. As a result, as many as 10,000 officers have lost their jobs in recent years – and an estimated 30,000 law enforcement positions are currently unfilled.
The negative effects of having fewer officers on the beat are obvious – and, in some areas, they can be devastating.
But block by block, city by city, department by department, the Administration is determined – absolutely 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 week, the Justice Department’s COPS Office – under the leadership of Director Melekian – announced more than $240 million in new grants to support the hiring and retention of more than a thousand officers in 238 agencies and municipalities across the country.
The competition for these grants was fierce. And Barney’s team completed a rigorous process of review – measuring local crime rates, seeking out the most efficient departments, and looking for innovation and a commitment to community policing. This city’s police department is one of several that stood out. And I’m pleased to report that the Cincinnati Police Department has been awarded more than $6.8 million in grant money from the COPS Hiring Program to fund 25 positions.
In total, more than $15 million will be distributed throughout the state of Ohio, covering salaries and benefits for close to 70 positions for the next three years – including four just up I-75 in Middletown.
This is a well-deserved achievement. And it’s a testament to the critical work that this state’s law enforcement officers – along with community partners and residents – are already leading. Every elected official, sworn officer, public servant, and community safety advocate here today should be proud of what you and your colleagues have accomplished in recent years. You have reaffirmed the power of community engagement in strengthening public safety. And, be cause of efforts like these, national crime trends are heading in the right direction.
As we’ve seen here in Cincinnati, and in the surrounding rural areas and tribal communities, when the bonds between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve are strengthened, entire neighborhoods – and countless lives – can be transformed and even saved.
Based on the track record you’ve established, we can all be encouraged by what – with an infusion of additional resources – you undoubtedly will be able to achieve in the months and years to come.
That’s not to say that the road ahead will be easy. Until we have the resources to fulfill every worthy grant request we receive – and every critical law enforcement position that remains vacant – all of us will need to keep fighting to secure the tools, the funding, and the personnel we so desperately need.
And while we have further to go, as we gather this afternoon, I believe there is good reason for optimism. Thanks to COPS hiring programs – and President Obama’s determination to save and create law enforcement jobs across the country – we’ve made meaningful, measurable progress. Over the last two years, COPS initiatives and investments have helped chiefs and sheriffs from coast to coast navigate extraordinary financial challenges. In fact, two years ago, this city was awarded more than $13.5 million to support 50 officer positions. Such targeted investments have made a difference here in Cincinnati – and proven essential to advancing the Justice Department’s commitment to be smart, as well as tough, on crime.
However – despite the progress we’ve seen and the promise of this moment – this is no time to become complacent. So, today, I’m not only here to say, “thank you” to this city’s law enforcement community. I’m also here to ask you to use these resources to do what Chief Craig has said his department must: “to take your work to the next level.” And, above all, I’m here to reaffirm the Justice Department’s ongoing commitment, as well as my own personal commitment, to supporting you and your colleagues in every way possible.
As we look to the future we seek – and, together, must build – know that this Administration remains firmly committed to standing with our nation’s law enforcement community – and that creating and saving jobs for first responders is an important part of the President’s agenda, and a central component of his proposed American Jobs Act.
In addition to your success, I also want to assure you that we remain committed to your safety.
As the brother of a retired police officer, I understand the challenges – and the threats – that you face each time you put on the uniform. I know the risks you take on behalf of your fellow citizens every single day. And, all too often, I’ve seen the profound sacrifices that you – and your families – are asked to make.
Since the beginning of this year, our nation has mourned the loss of 142 officers. Law enforcement fatalities are nearly 20 percent higher than this time last year. And, despite an overall drop in crime across the country, line-of-duty officer deaths are approaching the highest rates we’ve seen in almost two decades.
Here in Ohio, you’ve borne this terrible burden more heavily than most. Since New Year’s Day, when Deputy Sheriff Suzanne Hopper, of Clark County, became the first officer killed in the line of duty in 2011 – when she was shot after responding to a domestic disturbance call – a total of seven law enforcement officials across Ohio have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Each of these losses is both devastating and unacceptable. And the Justice Department will never waiver – and I will not rest – until we have taken every step possible to turn back this rising tide.
We will continue to meet increased violence with renewed vigilance. We will marshal our best resources in defense of those who put their lives on the line to protect our communities. We will prosecute those responsible for these crimes to the fullest extent of the law. And we will use every tool at our disposal – and every innovation we can bring to bear – to keep you and your colleagues safe.
This isn’t just our personal and professional priority. It is our moral calling. And it’s a solemn promise that the Justice Department is backing up with new programs and partnerships, like the Officer Safety and Wellness Initiative – and with significant, strategic investments to numerous officer safety programs, including our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program as well as the VALOR initiative that we launched last fall.
But all of this is only the beginning. In addition to grants like those the city of Cincinnati is receiving from the COPS Hiring Program – which will put more officers on the beat – we’ve also made significant investments to help launch the Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police, to expand the Department’s Smart Policing program, and to provide new support structures for the families of law enforcement officers – especially in times of tragedy.
Now, these financial commitments represent important – and, in some cases, long overdue – steps in the right direction. But no matter how robust or comprehensive our efforts, the fact is that we will never be able to eliminate every threat to public safety. Despite the hard work of law enforcement officials and their partners, significant obstacles – and serious threats – remain before us.
But, in light of all that we’ve achieved – as I look around this crowd – I can’t help but feel confident about where our collective efforts will take us from here.
Together, I believe that we can continue to bring about positive change in communities across Cincinnati, and all around the country. We can save lives, reduce violent crime, and restore the safety and security of those we have sworn to protect. And we can overcome even the largest and most persistent challenges that lie ahead.
In the coming weeks and months, as you move forward with this work – and recruit and retain much-needed officers, know that the entire Justice Department – from the COPS Office to the National Security Division – stands with you. And this Administration will continue to fight for the tools and resources you need and deserve.
Once again, I want to thank you all – for your service, your courage, and your dedication to upholding the rule of law and advancing the goals and responsibilities that we share. I am proud to count each of you as partners – and I look forward to all that we can, and will, accomplish together in the days ahead.