Remarks of the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney For The Western District of Pennsylvania
Regional Anti-Gang Conference
Law Enforcement Day
It is a privilege to be here with you, the men and women of Western Pennsylvania law enforcement, who protect and serve our region with honor, integrity and respect.
When I first spoke with you at last year's Gang Conference, I was relatively new to the position of United States Attorney - still assessing and evaluating the diverse responsibilities of our office and familiarizing myself with my fellow law enforcement colleagues. What a difference a year makes!
Over the course of the last year, we have come to know each other and to together forge a community impact prosecution, prevention and reentry strategy which shows promise of offering a demonstrable and meaningful impact on community crime and improving public safety. That said, we have much more work to do.
Statistics show that violent crime has been decreasing across the country since the early 1990s, and in recent years this trend has continued. According the FBI, violent crime decreased 5.3 percent nationwide in 2009, and an additional 6.5 percent in 2010. In Pennsylvania, the same is true, with violent crime decreasing 3.5 percent last year. And although violent crime is in decline, violence against law enforcement is significantly increasing.
Sadly, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of officers killed in the line of duty over the last 21 months. 2010 was one of the deadliest years on record for law enforcement in nearly two decades. And, unfortunately, we are on track to exceed last year’s tragic numbers. These numbers do not even reflect the federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers who have been assaulted and injured during this same time, but survived the attack.
These attacks are unacceptable. You place yourselves in harm’s way every day to ensure the safety and security of our citizens, and we need to do everything we can to protect you. That is why I, along with my fellow U.S. attorneys, are convening sessions with law enforcement officers and prosecutors to ensure that we are making every resource available to keep you safe. We are identifying the worst of the worst - offenders with criminal histories who cycle in and out of local jails and state prisons - to determine whether these repeat offenders may be prosecuted under federal law for offenses that make the offender eligible for a stiffer sentence.
In addition, the Department recently created the Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability or VALOR initiative, to reduce and prevent law enforcement officer line-of-duty injuries and deaths by training officers in techniques for approaching violent encounters. Our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program has provided for the purchase of nearly 50,000 protective vests for law enforcement nationwide. And we are also funding the development of RISSafe Officer Safety Event Deconfliction System. We will continue to make strategic investments, and work with our law enforcement partners to improve officer safety. I want you on the front lines to know - we have your back.
In spite of the overall progress in crime reduction, violent crime remains an enormous challenge. Attorney General Eric Holder recently challenged every U.S. Attorney in the country to develop a local anti-violence strategy that includes, first, vigorous criminal enforcement efforts; second, effective crime prevention programs; and third, strong prisoner reentry initiatives. We view all three as essential.
One example of the extraordinary work we can accomplish in the violent crime arena is our prosecution of the Northview Heights/Brighton Place Crips together with ATF. On August 25th, the last two of 26 defendants charged under RICO pleaded guilty in federal court. The punishment imposed by the Court in this case has been severe, and appropriate, given the violent nature of this gang. Bryant Mathis, aka "Lil B", who served in a leadership role in the gang, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Phillip Turner, aka "Philly C", was sentenced to 13 years in prison. And Rayshawn Malachi, aka "Melly Mel", Kevin Underwood, aka "J-Reed", Vallon Wallace, aka "VL", Maurice Wallace, aka "Reese", and Lynn Gibson, aka "Mennace", have all received prison sentences of 10 years or more. The Brighton Place/ Northview Heights Crips gang ruled certain neighborhoods in Pittsburgh for years, spreading violence and fear in their wake, and actively obstructing justice from the Allegheny County Jail. This comprehensive investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the City of Pittsburgh Police; the Allegheny County Police Department; and the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office. I would also like to recognize and salute here today Assistant U.S. Attorney Tod Eberle, our Anti Gang Coordinator, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti, our Violent Crimes Section Chief, for their expert prosecution of this case.
Another example of a community impact prosecution was the takedown of another violent street gang - the Manchester Original Gangsters. Following a lengthy investigation by the ATF and the FBI, more than 40 gang members were charged federally for conspiring to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal narcotics, primarily heroin, throughout the Pittsburgh area. Many Manchester OG members and associates had long criminal histories that involved numerous acts of firearms violence, drug and gun trafficking, and multiple encounters with law enforcement. Most have been detained pending trial.
According to statistics published by the City, these prosecutions in the North Side have dramatically reduced crime. More importantly, the law abiding residents have taken back their neighborhoods.
Of course, fighting violent crime requires more than just putting offenders in jail. It also requires preventing crime before it occurs, and assuring the effective transition of released prisoners back into society.
A key component of our anti–violence program necessarily involves preventing youth violence, including providing young people at risk with viable alternatives to lives of crime. That is why our Youth Futures Commission recently launched its "be 1 in a million" campaign. "Be 1 in a million" has emerged from a call made by First Lady Michelle Obama in January in which she challenged organizations to expand or create mentoring programs to help reduce dropout rates and juvenile delinquency. All of us in this room can have a role as mentors and role models for at-risk youth. We in law enforcement should rise to the challenge and become part of the solution to prevent future crime.
We are also employing our Project Safe Neighborhoods program to aggressively attack gun and gang crime. PSN is not a one-size fits all approach, but rather it allows us to strengthen partnerships with our state and local colleagues to implement a strategy that best addresses the gun and gang issues specific to our region. It offers flexibility because we recognize that what works in Homewood will not necessarily work in Erie or Uniontown; and we will develop strategies there and elsewhere in our District where the law needs to be returned to places where it has been forgotten.
Prosecuting and preventing violent crime is not enough. We also must assist prisoners with their transitions back into society - through substance abuse treatment, employment and housing assistance, and mentoring programs. These efforts are necessary to give released prisoners an opportunity to turn their lives around and, more importantly, to steer them away from committing more crime. On a federal level, a joint undertaking by the U.S. District Court, U.S. Probation and Pre-trial Services, the Federal Public Defender's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office has resulted in the creation of a "Reintegration Into Society Effort" or RISE Court to provide intensive supervision of select federal offenders who participate in a reentry program. Locally, we are committed to fostering the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative, which joins the forces of government agencies, court officials, service providers, ex-offenders, faith-based community organizations, families and the community at large to increase public safety and reduce recidivism. Programs that leverage the time that defendants are incarcerated have proven to be both successful in reducing recidivism and cost-effective.
In preparing to convene this Gang Awareness Conference this year, I tried to identify one word that best reflects what's happened to the U.S. Attorney's Office, to the criminal threat, and to the way in which we address it. That word is "evolution": not in the biological sense of natural selection - but evolution in its other sense, the process of formation or growth; innovation; adaptation. In the U.S. Attorneys Office, we have implemented organizational changes to reflect the real world challenges we face. We created a National Security Section to fulfill our first responsibility to protect our nation through the prevention and disruption of acts of terror. This group is focusing on terrorism, both international and domestic; cybercrime, including computer intrusions and threats to the national infrastructure; and threats against federal officials.
We also created a Civil Rights Section to aggressively prosecute violent acts of hate and deprivation of civil rights, in addition to child exploitation; stalking; violence against women; and human trafficking.
As we adapt to combat increasingly sophisticated threats, the criminal threat has evolved, as well. This is true in the area of community violent crime. Teens and adolescents are among the highest demographic in criminal arrests made in United States. In the National Security arena, we recognize that Al-Qaeda may be fragmenting, home-grown or line wolf threats have become a top priority. In the community violence battle, the threat has eveoved to include juveniles. Also where both National Security and community violence converge, advances in technology are affecting not only how we track, predict and combat crime, but also how criminals are reacting to our efforts. During a recent saturation patrol conducted by the Pittsburgh Police, they reported that targets of the operation were "tweeting" about the location of the police in real time, in order to evade arrest. Similarly, the Internet has become the highway of International and Domestic Terrorism.
Today's presentations reflect a desire to enhance our awareness and preparedness beyond the traditional concepts of gang violence and crime.
From sovereign citizens, who take the position they are not subject to any statutes or proceedings at the federal, state or municipal level; to domestic terrorists who would attempt to use violence or the threat of violence against fellow citizens to advance a political, religious or ideological agenda; to Operation Phone Flash, an extensive undercover operation that targeted a Hezbollah cell trying to obtain weapons and missiles; I think you will find today's program uniquely tailored to the evolving challenges we in law enforcement confront in today's world.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to our continuing work. We are grateful for your attendance and that of our distinguished speakers. Lets work hard together over the next two days to build a better wall of protection for our fellow citizens. They are depending on us.