Attorney General John D. Ashcroft Luncheon
Address for Weed and Seed Conference Philadelphia, PA (NOTE :THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS) Monday, August 27, 2001
Good afternoon. I am very pleased to be with you today to help Weed and Seed celebrate 10 years of success. It is certainly appropriate that we meet here in Philadelphia for this national conference. Philadelphia is not only the birthplace of our great nation, it is also the birthplace of Weed and Seed.
Back in 1991, Operation Weed and Seed began under the first Bush Administration as a pilot program right here in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia project grew out of a collaboration among the U.S. Attorney's Office, the district attorney, and community groups that focused on reducing crime in the Mantua and Spring Gardens neighborhoods.
Those pioneering efforts demonstrated the positive impact we can have when federal and local law enforcement agencies joined forces, shared resources, set common goals, partnered with community groups, and worked together to drive trouble out of troubled neighborhoods.
President George Bush, Senior, recognized the early achievements of Weed and Seed, saying that: "Weed and Seed wins back our inner cities by weeding out gang leaders, drug dealers, and career criminals and seeding communities with expanded employment, educational, and social services." Other cities soon recognized Philadelphia's success and climbed aboard the Weed and Seed band wagon.
The first official Weed and Seed program was established across the river, in Trenton, which was honored earlier today. Trenton now has Weed and Seed operating in many neighborhoods throughout the city.
Three guiding principles led to the early success of Weed and Seed and remain critical to the continued achievements of Weed and Seed in 270 communities all across the nation. These principles are:
- First, pooling resources. The Weed and Seed strategy helps communities identify their local assets and pool those resources with federal and private assistance for maximum local impact.
- Second, a comprehensive strategy. The Weed and Seed strategy helps communities set public safety priorities through a joint effort by key neighborhood stakeholders.
- And third, partnership. Weed and Seed would not be possible without forging partnerships and inter-agency agreements among all the weeding and seeding partners to outline the roles and responsibilities of each partner, to ensure coordination, and to build a coalition - together with residents - to work towards positive community change.
Weed and Seed has one more key ingredient - dedicated people. Its remarkable growth and achievement would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of all of you in this room and the thousands of community leaders throughout this country who are working to make their neighborhoods safe.
This includes police officers and federal agents who make up the Weed and Seed task forces. It includes community police officers who walk the beat and work with residents to solve neighborhood problems.
It includes aftercare workers, who provide a safe haven for youth, local government officials who coordinate the delivery of local services, and coordinators who organize summer camps and drug resistance education programs for at-risk youth. It includes mayors, U.S. Attorneys, and members of the faith community who are called upon to provide leadership for the Weed and Seed Steering Committees.
All of you are to be commended for your dedication and hard work, year in and year out, in helping to build safe communities and improve the quality of life for those living in troubled neighborhoods.
As I learn more about Weed and Seed, I am struck by the breadth and depth of your activities. Recently I had the opportunity to visit Weed and Seed sites in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Mobile, Alabama. In Albuquerque the Weed and Seed program has created partnerships with community health and faith-based organizations including the Good Samaritan Ministries and the Albuquerque Indian Center.
In Mobile there has been a 15 percent reduction in violent and drug-related crime in the three Weed and Seed neighborhoods. Right here in Philadelphia, "Operation Sunrise" is an excellent example of the kind of targeted law enforcement and collaboration that's made Weed and Seed such a success.
Operation Sunrise began with undercover surveillance by law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence about drug dealers in the Weed and Seed target area. After the drug dealers were arrested, city services moved in to clean, seal, or demolish abandoned properties used for drug trafficking. Empty lots, streets, and alleyways were cleaned up. And residents and community organizations began to build relationships and to establish programs empowering residents to reclaim their community and to resist crime. And the residents did their part. They helped with the neighborhood cleanups. They worked with police to launch crime prevention efforts. They took part in marches to encourage community participation and to send the message to criminals that residents would not tolerate crime in their neighborhood. These efforts have had a tremendous impact.
Since the inception of Operation Sunrise three years ago, police have made almost 15,000 arrests. They have confiscated illegal drugs with a street value of over 8.9 million dollars. And they have removed 402 firearms from Philadelphia streets. Together, police and community residents have made their city safer. Weed and Seed has achieved success in other cities, as well.
In Milwaukee, the number of homicides in the city's Weed and Seed area dropped from 13 to only one in the year after a comprehensive crime prevention program was implemented. The effort mobilized residents to work closely with police and established a network of after-school programs to get at-risk kids off the streets and into wholesome activities supervised by positive adult role models.
In Indianapolis, ministers work hand-in-hand with police, often accompanying them to crime scenes and helping them communicate with residents about sensitive and high visibility incidents. This is just one example of how government and the faith-based community can work together to make life better in our communities.
And in many other Weed and Seed communities, federal and local law enforcement agents are working together with the clergy and other community leaders to provide supervision and services to offenders returning to their communities after incarceration.
Helping these offenders become contributing, law-abiding members of the community will also ensure public safety.
In my home state of Missouri, specifically Southeast Missouri, court involved youth are provided with jobs that enable them to pay restitution to their victims. These young people also are assigned mentors who help them avoid further delinquent behavior.
There are hundreds of examples I could mention where Weed and Seed activities are making a profound difference in communities across America. Since its inception in 1991 under President Bush, the Weed and Seed initiative has awarded over $237 million to nearly 300 communities.
We must now build on these successes and continue to move toward the goal of safety for every resident, in every neighborhood, in every community in our nation. We must ensure "that no neighborhood is left behind."
We must continue our efforts so that no individual faces the daily threat of becoming a victim of a violent crime. We must work so that no child is raised in a neighborhood where they are afraid to play or walk to school or wait for the school bus. We must work toward a day when all of America's neighborhoods provide a safe and wholesome environment where we can raise our families in safety. We must do more to ensure that our Weed and Seed neighborhoods and communities throughout America are free from drugs, crime, and violence.
At the Department of Justice, we have no higher goal than this - to ensure the safety and freedom of every American. That is why we have placed a high priority on enforcing our nation's laws and on prosecuting those who endanger our communities.
We are targeting those who traffic in, produce, or use illegal drugs. Too many of our young people, in particular, are falling prey to Ecstasy, meth, and other dangerous drugs. But we are working to get these drugs off the streets and to lock up traffickers. And, in fact, our new head of the drug enforcement administration, Asa Hutchinson, is leading these efforts.
We also are working to end gun violence. Through our major new initiative, Project Safe Neighborhoods, we are demonstrating a nationwide commitment to reduce gun crime in America by networking existing local programs that target gun crime - like Exile and Cease fire - and providing those programs with additional tools.
These efforts will build on the success of programs like Weed and Seed.
Our goal is to reduce gun-related violence in America by vigorously enforcing existing gun laws. This year, 113 new federal prosecutors will be dedicated to prosecute illegal gun use under Project Safe Neighborhoods. And $75 million in grants will be used to hire and train approximately 600 state and local gun prosecutors.
In addition, $144.3 million in funding is being dedicated for other programs that will support the activities under Project Safe Neighborhoods. And, President Bush's FY 2002 budget request for the Department of Justice includes $189 million to continue enforcement of gun laws under this initiative and to ensure that child safety locks are available for every handgun in America.
But as we go about our business of enforcing laws, preventing violence, and administering justice in America, we must do so in a way that is in accord with our Constitutional guarantees of fair and equitable treatment under the law. That is why I have taken action at the federal level to ensure that our policies are color blind and that we are working to eliminate discrimination and guarantee the rights of every American.
The Department of Justice also can play an important role in fostering the kind of federal-local cooperation that is making such a positive difference in Weed and Seed communities.
To achieve the goals of the Weed and Seed program, to address the challenges faced by today's sites, and to expand Weed and Seed to additional sites, I have asked our Executive Office for Weed and Seed to take several important steps.
First, we must strengthen our coordination with other federal agencies and programs. We need to ensure that our efforts at the federal level are appropriately targeted, and that we are making the maximum use of available federal resources.
Second, I want the office to expand the special emphasis areas of the Weed and Seed program to have an increased focus on arresting and prosecuting to the fullest extent those who commit crimes using illegal firearms in Weed and Seed areas. And they will work closely with Project Safe Neighborhoods to ensure communities have the resources they need to prosecute gun-related offenses.
Third, curbing illicit drug use will continue to be a critical special emphasis area. I hope the Weed and Seed Office and each of you will develop more effective drug enforcement strategies, including those that involve the appropriate use of faith-based organizations.
And I will encourage support for the kinds of partnerships developed under Weed and Seed that involve law enforcement, the military, and community residents in providing drug resistance education and mentoring.
Let me once again thank you for all you are doing to improve the safety of your neighborhoods. You are the backbone of the Weed and Seed program. Your hard work, energy, and commitment drive the activities that have led to the success of Weed and Seed over these past 10 years.
We at the Department of Justice are committed to building on your achievements. We will do everything we can to ensure that you have the tools you need to continue to make our neighborhoods safer and better places to live, work, and raise our children. Thank you.