Significant Speeches

Remarks of the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney For The Western District of Pennsylvania
At The
Regional Anti-Gang Conference
Community Day

Regional Learning Alliance
Cranberry, Pennsylvania
September 28, 2011

Good morning.

It is exciting to see so many people united in our concern for preventing violence and raising awareness. I am honored to be among you, the educators, community leaders, human service professionals and law enforcement officers who work each day to make our communities safer.

We all have an obligation to protect our citizens from the ravages of crime, which tears at the fabric of communities and which frustrates the basic, civil right of everyone to live securely and free of fear.

As the federal prosecutorial resource for the 25 counties of Western Pennsylvania, it is our duty and mission to aggressively enforce the law. But, it is not enough to be tough: more importantly, we must be smart about our prosecutions. Every case must be viewed through the lens of community impact, while giving due weight to the efficiency and economic impact of our enforcement strategies. Targeted gang prosecutions against 26 members of the Northview Heights/Brighton Place Crips and nearly 40 Manchester OG's and their associates were driven by this concern for community impact. In addition to heroin trafficking, for years, these gangs subjected residents in the North Side of Pittsburgh to a pattern of homicides, shootings and retaliation that demanded a severe response.

Attorney General Eric Holder has directed me and fellow U.S. Attorneys to be innovative and to develop regionally-tailored crime prevention, enforcement and re-entry programs. Most of you here appreciate that there is a cycle of violence – but, the more that we can research and understand this cycle, the better able we will be to disrupt violence through targeted solutions.

It is encouraging that violent crime rates are down nearly 6% nationally, regionally by similar measure and in Pittsburgh violent crime decreased by 9%. But, we also live in a society where one out of every 100 adults is incarcerated – nearly 2 million of us – and about 2/3 of those who are released from jail are eventually re-arrested. Conservatively, the cost to incarcerate a defendant is $25,000 each year. By contrast, supervision and treatment of that same defendant costs exponentionally less, about a quarter of the cost of incarceration.

This is why forward-looking re-entry programs like the Allegheny County Jail collaborative are so worthy of our time and energy. The Jail Collaborative recognizes that effective re-entry starts long before a defendant is back on the street, and that importing treatment and training into the jail pays dividends in lower re-offense rates.

While the relative merits of alternatives to prolonged incarceration may be shown through crime reduction statistics and dollar to dollar savings, how can we possibly quantify the value of violence prevented? A victim's pain and destruction averted? Or a child's future preserved? Without question, the most challenging and valuable achievement we can attain is to prevent a crime and to spare a victim.

It is by design that school violence and youth prevention are featured in this year's conference. Despite the reductions in overall crime rates, we know that children are far more likely to experience the deleterious effects of violent crime than adults. According to the recent National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, more than 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence or abuse within the past year. These patterns of violence can take many forms – from pushing, hitting, and bullying to witnessing or experiencing gun, knife, gang, domestic or sexual violence. Exposure to violence can happen at home, in the streets, during school, or on the Internet, where children face serious and unprecedented threats. And we know that exposure to violence – as a witness or a victim – can have devastating, long-term effects on our children – increasing their chances for depression, substance-abuse, and violent behavior.

What can we do to mitigate the negative impacts of exposure to violence on our youth? As an important step, we have reconstituted the former Youth Crime Prevention Council, as the Youth Futures Commission, underscoring our commitment to increasing opportunities for the region's youth, as well as to preventing youth violence.

Our signature project is the "Be 1 in a million" campaign, together with the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pittsburgh Police, local government, corporate and union leaders, the United Way and many others. "Be 1 in a million" emerged from a call made by First Lady Michelle Obama this January in which she challenged organizations to expand or create mentoring programs to help reduce dropout rates and juvenile delinquency. Our campaign is intended to improve the educational success of the region’s students by recruiting and equipping at least 4,000 readers, tutors and mentors in the next three years. It's a proven fact that students with mentors do better. Having an adult take an interest makes a student work harder in school. In fact, they are 86% more likely to go to college. There is a table with literature explaining the flexible mentoring and early reading options in the reception area. I encourage you to stop by and find out how you can "be 1 in a million," and join us in preventing future crime.

Today's agenda challenges us to think beyond traditional concepts of gang violence and crime. We considered your input through evaluations and recognized that we all need to be aware of the potential for violence in schools and to work to prevent it. We must be informed and prepared to meet crises wherever they occur.

I hope you enjoy this program.

Thank you for your attention.

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