Significant Speeches

Remarks of the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney For The Western District of Pennsylvania
At The
Law Enforcement Agency Director’s Annual Awards Ceremony

The Federal Reserve Bank
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
November 19, 2010

Thank you for attending this year’s LEAD Award Ceremony.  This valuable organization began during the tenure of one of my predecessors - Fred Thieman.  We meet regularly to coordinate our shared law enforcement responsibilities.  It is a national model for effective federal, state and local cooperation and one of the most important resources we have in the fight against crime.

The LEAD Awards we present today are most prestigious and we are in awe of the bravery, courage, commitment and selfless dedication of our award winners and their families.

When I was sworn in as U.S. Attorney, I outlined my hopes for our office and, specifically, my view of its responsibilities.  I believe that the goals of freedom and justice are interdependent - one cannot exist without the other - and that realizing these goals in practice is the great mission and charge of the United States Department of Justice.

So we take our responsibilities very, very seriously.

We have asked all of the professionals in the United States Attorney’s office to be excellent - to strive for the highest levels of skill, industry and ethical professionalism, worthy of our people and worthy of our Nation.  It is a privilege to serve among you - professional excellence is an obligation.

We have just concluded an exhaustive review of our office and its course and direction.  Our people are highly skilled, hard working and most of all, uniformly faithful to the ideals and to the people we serve.  The professionals in the U.S Attorney’s office have great core values, strong competency, especially and most notably in the areas of violent crime, cybercrime and child exploitation.

A couple of weeks ago, we announced an office reorganization.  This new structure is the product of careful review and reflection and the goal is to provide the best possible allocation of our resources to protect the public welfare.  The reorganization has two principal features: the people and the priorities.

The new leadership team includes Soo Song as First Assistant U.S. Attorney, Steve Kaufman as Chief of the Criminal Division, Mike Comber as Chief of the Civil Division and Rebecca Haywood as Appellate Chief.

Individually and collectively this group is exceptionally strong.  Each has excellent academic credentials and solid professional accomplishments as lawyers.  As a group, they offer a dynamic blend of excellence.  They give great advice and direction.

In addition, we have created a new Executive Committee, chaired by Nelson Cohen, the position of Deputy U.S. Attorney for Administration, occupied by Leo Dillon, and the new position of Counsel to the US Attorney for Ethics and Professional Responsibility, occupied by Bob Eberhardt.  Through the creation of these new positions, we are able to maintain the great wisdom and institutional knowledge in the office and demonstrate that ethical professionalism is the first resort in all of our work.

Today, I want to call attention to the substance in the new priorities and direction for the office which drove the reorganization decisions.  These will certainly be relevant to LEAD and the entire law enforcement community in Western Pennsylvania.

First, we have created a National Security Section in the Criminal Division to fulfill our first responsibility to protect our Nation.  This section is led by Paul Hull, who brings a fine record of accomplishments including his skill in solving cyber crimes.  Paul will be assisted by Linda Kelly, who serves as our anti-terrorism coordinator and Jim Wilson, who just returned from an assignment in Iraq.  The group will focus upon terrorism, both international and domestic; cyber crime, including computer intrusions and threats to the national infrastructure; and, threats against federal officials.

In the post 9-11 world, we do not accept that our role can be passive or reactive and limited to rigid concepts of investigation and prosecution.  The reality is that we face a variety of threats to our national security that are aggressive and innovative.

We need every tool, technique and technology to fight terrorism.   Recent threats in the news bear witness to this responsibility.  We are charged to be and we will be an active partner with our federal and state and local law enforcement partners and we must help prevent and prosecute those who would harm us.

Our office will have a new Civil Rights Section.  This is a national priority for the President and the Justice Department and is of great importance to me.  It is hard to believe that in 2010 we are still fighting for equality for all Americans.  The Department of Justice has a record of success in this area and, together, we will marshal our assets to aggressively prosecute violent acts of hate and deprivations of civil rights.  We will also pursue a substantial civil effort in Civil Rights, including Jessica Smolar, who formerly was the Deputy in our Civil Section, who will now focus upon both criminal and civil rights enforcement, to include unfair lending and housing.

We have joined our outstanding child exploitation prosecution team with this section, which is led by Shawn Sweeney.  Several of our most skilled lawyers, including Craig Haller who is being honored here today for working with HSI to bring the District’s first prosecution of a child exploitation network using a social networking site, serve in the section. This group will prosecute all forms of Civil Rights violations and hate crimes; child exploitation; stalking and violence against women; and human trafficking.

We will continue and expand our commitment to eradicating our neighborhoods of violent crime and the scourge of drugs, guns and gangs.  Troy Rivetti leads this effort as the head of Violent Crimes. Connie Bowden and Tod Eberle, who are honored here today with ATF for their work on the Northview Heights/Brighton Place Crips case, occupy important roles in this vital work.

As a law enforcement community, we need to continue to develop new strategies to combat violent crime in our communities.  Despite all of the work which has been done, we still have unacceptable amounts of drugs, guns and more violence in many communities.  We cannot accept this.  We need to look for new ways to improve our efforts - innovative strategies, technologies and methods of crime prevention.  To accept the status quo is to lose another generation of kids.  We know we can make a meaningful impact in reducing the cycle of violence and murder because there have been successful efforts before.

For example, in Boston, you may be familiar with the “Boston Miracle” where a law enforcement and community coalition made a dramatic and sustained dent in youth gang crime and homicide.  In Richmond and in Atlanta, enhanced prosecution of gun crime known as Project Exile and FACE, respectively, led to dramatic reductions and enhanced community safety. Here, the LAW gang prosecution in the 90's had a sustained positive impact upon crime in the Larimer Avenue neighborhood.  The targeted enforcement on the North Side has already reduced crime rates - but that is just a start - just a beginning.  We need to combat violence like our lives depend upon it - because they do! We are committed to this effort.

I firmly believe that we can bring prominence to National Security and Civil Rights without sacrificing our commitment to aggressively combat organized crime and violence.  Equally important, however, are our responsibilities to detect and prosecute corruption and fraud.  We are prepared as an office to work with law enforcement to react flexibly to respond to crime problems as they arise.

Mortgage fraud provides a good example.  Financial misconduct in the mortgage industry crippled our economy and has had devastating impacts on many fraud victims.  To respond to surging mortgage fraud, we acted quickly to form a Mortgage Fraud Task Force to ferret out individuals and corporations who committed financial crimes.  We have become one of the leading districts in the nation in terms of mortgage fraud prosecutions.  Brendan Conway of our office has worked together with agents like Dan Fisher of Secret Service and Tom Fornataro of IRS, who are being honored today, as well as FBI and the Postal Inspection Service, to bring defendants to justice for exploiting borrowers and financial institutions.

Today, we honor the Law Enforcement Agency Directors award winners.  We honor heroes of law enforcement for their great work.

We all appreciate the tireless and important work of our law enforcement partners.  They epitomize public service.  Our community can be safe and stable only if the heroes who work the front lines do so with the faithful bravery and courage demonstrated every day by law enforcement. But when we see the courage of Officer Janine Triolo, who was assaulted and beaten in responding to a robbery in the East End of Pittsburgh, or the faithful bravery of Trooper Paul Richey, murdered while responding to a domestic dispute in Venango County and Penn Hills Officer Michael Crawshaw, who was senselessly killed while responding to another homicide, we are moved beyond words.  It is fitting and proper that we take the time to show our appreciation for all of the heroes we honor today, but especially the families of Officer Crawshaw and Trooper Richey.  They made the ultimate sacrifice – they gave their lives to protect us.

Sadly, the tragic loss of Paul Richey and Michael Crawshaw are part of a disturbing trend that has been recognized by many.  Since 2009, 163 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty nationwide.  Our district has been directly and deeply affected.  Since 2009, we have lost:

     Pittsburgh Police Officer Eric G. Kelly.
     Pittsburgh Police Officer Stephen J. Mayhle.
     Pittsburgh Police Officer Paul J. Sciullo II.
     Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Paul G. Richey. 
     Penn Hills Police Officer Michael Crawshaw.

And we cannot meet in this setting without remembering again the tragic loss of FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks, killed in the line of duty in November 2008. (Nov. 19, 2008)

Some offer explanations for why this is happening, but none of them are of comfort to the families of those lost or to our communities.  No explanation is acceptable.

We must end now the violence against those of you who dedicate their lives to protect us and I commit to do everything I can to support that effort.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the creation of the Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability or VALOR initiative. The VALOR initiative aims to reduce and prevent law enforcement officer line of duty injuries and deaths by training officers in techniques for approaching violence encounters and funding officer safety initiatives.

Under the VALOR initiative, the Justice Department will partner with the IACP (Int’l Association of Chiefs of Police) to research and analyze violent encounters, officer deaths and injuries.  The newly formed Center for Prevention of Violence Against the Police will serve as a clearing house for information about injury and violence against law enforcement officers.  The VALOR Initiative will also assure officer resilience and survival through technical assistance and training.  Officers will learn improved techniques for identifying concealed weapons and armed gunmen, confronting high-risk tactical situations and for confronting specific threat groups, including domestic and international terrorists, and other violent criminals and extremists.

In Fiscal Year 2010, the Department of Justice committed more than $40 million for officer safety programs. The majority of this investment was allocated to our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, and provided for the purchase of nearly 50,000 protective vests.  These funds also reimbursed law enforcement agencies for the purchase of body armor, response to line-of-duty deaths, enhanced deconfliction efforts and improved technology.

Through the leadership of Attorney General Holder, and with cooperation from state and local law enforcement partners, we will work to enhance safety and protection to those who walk the beat; respond to calls of distress, and protect our families and communities. NEVER, EVER should they be a target of violence and harm - this must cease.

We all have additional responsibilities as law enforcement and as leaders.  First, we must assure civility and respect in the debate about how we ensure both freedom and justice in these challenging times.  We must help our community honor its institutions and respect our law enforcement officers.  We also must better understand the underlying causes of crime and violence and work harder to address the problems at the source.

In this era of high violence and hostility, we need to help our friends, neighborhoods, communities, churches, social organizations and clubs to all take some of the steam and anger out of our discourse and debate.  We need to help replace the vitriolic acrimony with a discussion which emphasizes personal responsibility and community.  We need to encourage greater respect for our institutions and our government, and to help our citizens realize that law enforcement is there to protect and serve us, and to be a solution to our problems, not the cause of them.  We cannot allow a constant attack upon our government and its institutions and our law enforcement personnel without consequences. As a Nation, the very institutions we defend every day; our Constitution - our system of government – which make it possible for us to have robust debate, to disagree earnestly about the direction of our Country, and then come together again as Americans, as Western Pennsylvanians - are under assault.  The attacks and murders of law enforcement officers are part of the epidemic of hatred and violence.

We must work together to defend and enhance the things we all agree upon: freedom, justice, debate and reconciliation.  We must also condemn those who incite violence and advocate divisive hatred.  We must help rebalance the community conversation and debate.

We will apply the law to prosecute hate speech, domestic terrorism and civil rights violations. In Detroit, my colleague U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, working with her law enforcement partners, indicted the Hutaree Militia, an anti-government extremist organization, for its unlawful plan to conduct mass-killings of police officers using IED’s and explosives.  We will not be timid about using the law here when appropriate to disrupt criminal conspiracies. My appeal to each of you today, however, is that we all work to turn down the temperature of the debate as we work and live.

For those of you at the Gang Conference in September you heard Christopher Magyarics of the Anti-Defamation League talk about the dangerous rise in anti-government and hateful speech in organized groups here in Western Pennsylvania.  This presentation emphasized the hateful, anti-government pronouncements on the internet by the killer of Officers Scuillo, Mayhle and Kelly that preceded his deadly crime-spree.  This illustrates that we have to be vigilant about hateful speech.  In some cases, it is a precursor to devastating violence.

As law enforcement, we need to be aggressive in checking illegal hateful speech before it leads to a deadly and violent course of events.  As community leaders, we need to join those who challenge the entire community to be more inclusive, more tolerant and more faithful to the ideals and principles which founded this Country.

Many have said that the problems of mankind can be solved by man.  Some of you have already stepped up.  There are many examples of individuals and groups contributing to a renewal of American community principles.  Ted Johnson, who heads the Federal Probation Office, is a leader among a group of two dozen fathers in Wilkinsburg who contribute time and presence in their community to address and defuse community tension and provide support to kids without male role models or mentors.  And, Kim Booth, of Allegheny County Juvenile Court’s Community Intensive Supervision Project, works diligently to overcome the obstacles of poverty and lack of opportunity.  They never give up on kids, despite the challenge, giving them a chance to climb the ladder of opportunity and lead productive lives.

Finally, we must embrace a renewed effort of crime prevention by addressing crime at the source; at its roots.  Any crime victim would favor prevention over prosecution.  Any taxpayer would recognize savings through prevention over prosecution.  But beyond that, it is simply necessary to our communities that we address poverty and lack of opportunity; that we not condemn nor blame the poor or disadvantaged, and that we embrace community crime prevention as a critical weapon in our arsenal against crime.

Let us all redouble our work here to reclaim our communities and protect our law enforcement heroes who protect us.  Let others point to the Western District of Pennsylvania as the model for a multi-faceted can-do approach which delivers to our friends and neighbors the benefits of freedom and justice; of personal responsibility and opportunity; of individuality and community.  We can win here!

Thank you very much.

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