Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Community Oriented Police Conference
Washington, D.C.
June 23, 2004--10:30 am

Thank you, Carl [Peed], for that introduction.

It is a pleasure to be here with you--the men and women of law enforcement.

As attorney general, it is my honor and my privilege to address so many members of the justice family--men and women whose lives are making a difference. You are changing our nation for the better. Your presence is an important reminder that crime is stopped by the men and women with their feet on the street--not by bureaucrats with their feet on their desks.

Since that grim day September 11, 2001, I have seen, across this nation, a renewed respect and warmth for all those who put on the uniform to protect others.

From the men and women serving abroad in our Armed Forces to the firefighters and law enforcement who bring help and hope at home, Americans everywhere see your uniforms and your work and your strength as symbols of our nation's noblest ideals.

The colors of our flag represent so perfectly the mission of law enforcement.

The colors of our flag draw their meaning from the Great Seal of the United States, which was authorized on July 4, 1776, in the city of Philadelphia. Charles Thompson, who was the secretary for the Continental Congress, described for his fellow citizens what the colors red, white, and blue represent:

White signifies purity and innocence;

Red represents hardiness and valor; and,

Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

These are the colors of law enforcement. Each day, your hardiness and valor protect the innocent. Day and night, your vigilance, perseverance, and dedication to justice help apprehend and incarcerate the violent and predatory.

The first duty of a free government is to protect the lives and liberties of the people. You are doing that. And you are making a difference.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the violent-crime rate has plunged to a 30-year low.

When you compare the year 2002 to the year 2000, this fact--as impressive as it is--comes into human focus. Over just that two-year period, nearly one million Americans were protected from the pain and anguish of being a victim of violent crime. In 2001 and 2002, compared with 1999 and 2000:

27 percent fewer people were robbed.

23 percent fewer men and women were victims of aggravated assault.

And 27 percent fewer women--sisters, mothers, and daughters--were raped.

In addition to your contribution to this historic reduction in violent crime, you have been a crucial ally in the President's efforts to stop the illegal use of guns. Thanks to Project Safe Neighborhoods, state, local, and federal law enforcement are working closer than ever. Together, we are ensuring criminals do hard time for gun crime.

In the past three years under Project Safe Neighborhoods, we have seen a record-setting level of federal gun-crime prosecutions--up 68 percent.

In 2002, more than 10,600 defendants were charged with federal gun crimes. In 2003, that number climbed to more than 13,000 offenders charged with federal firearms offenses. That is a record increase of 23 percent.

These prosecutions show that the state-local-federal partnership is getting violent offenders out of the community faster and putting them in prison longer.

And these numbers are no accident.

The 30-year low in violent crime is the result of your vigilance, your perseverance, and your dedication to justice. The nearly 1,000,000 Americans who have been spared victimization by violent crime cannot give you their thanks. It is a part of the noble burden of law enforcement that when you save lives, you often save the lives of people you may never meet; and when you raise a shield of protection, you protect those who may never be able to extend their hand in gratitude.

But I am aware of your sacrifice, and I am grateful for your service. So on behalf of those who have been spared, and on behalf of all the American people, I thank you.

You are the doers. And you are making a difference.

By driving down crime, you are extending the blessings of freedom and enriching the lives of your fellow citizens.

To countless families living in violent and crime-ridden neighborhoods, you have given a great gift: the gift of equal protection of the law. These families no longer have to move to safer neighborhoods to escape the violent, the lawless, and the predatory. You have helped them realize the dream of safety and security when they join you to help in protecting their communities. You have shown that united, we can find the violent, arrest the lawless and lock up the predatory. You have demonstrated that we can defend our liberty.

Perhaps most significant of all is the fact that your success in the fight against crime shows that a free people can change the future. You have shown that we are masters of our fate, not slaves to our circumstance.

Consider how far we have come in the debate about crime. Just two or three decades ago, academics preached defeatism. We were told that the rising tide of violent crime was inevitable and irresistible. We were told that crime was just an expression of the socio-economic frustration that defined modern life. We were told that locking up the violent and predatory would not lead to lower crime or saved lives.

We know better now.

Of course, there are no easy answers to violent crime. But there are simple answers. They require resolve and perseverance to implement.

New York Governor George Pataki was once asked what the "root cause" of crime was. He said, "Criminals."

The answer to violent crime is simple - it is an equation any second grader could perform: Hardened criminals plus prison plus tough sentences equals fewer criminals and that equals less crime.

But getting criminals off the streets and keeping them out of neighborhoods requires citizens and communities to support law enforcement--to support you. It requires elected leaders who make public safety their No. 1 priority. It demands that every level of government give law enforcement the best training, tactics, and resources we can find.

We seek to do that at the United States Justice Department. Just as it is the first priority of government to defend the lives and liberties of the people, so, too, it is the duty, obligation, and honor of a free people to support those who fill the ranks of law enforcement.

Last November, I announced a Justice Department initiative designed to address the reliability of body armor used by law enforcement. In addition, the initiative will examine the future of bullet-resistant technology and testing.

Bullet-resistant body armor has an outstanding safety record in protecting officers from ballistic threats and other types of injuries. We want it to be even better, so you do your jobs better and more safely.

As you know, I recently announced that credible intelligence indicates that al Qaeda wants to hit the United States and hit us hard. This summer and fall, we face increased threats of terrorism.

America has never asked more from you. Across our nation, the men and women of law enforcement have been called to bring their vigilance, perseverance, and dedication to justice to help the nation fight the war on terror.

We have asked you to lend your eyes and ears to the hunt for terrorist suspects.

The FBI has compiled a list of "Intelligence Priorities" so that we can fill the gaps in our intelligence needs. I have directed both the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in your areas to stress the importance of uncovering specific intelligence during the heightened threats of this summer and fall.

Specific intelligence is the foundation of our ability to harden targets, disrupt terror cells, and elevate threat levels to engage our prepared counter-terrorism measures.

In addition, we are continuing to pursue our goal of providing law enforcement at all levels with the information and tools they need to prevent crime and terrorism.

On May 14 of this year, the Justice Department joined with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and other local law enforcement organizations to endorse the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan.

This plan complements our Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program, which will give law enforcement better access to the Justice Department's investigative information databases. At the Department of Justice, we want an information-sharing program based on the day-to-day realities of your law-enforcement operations. We want the information-sharing program to be a one-stop database with simple, single access to needed information. Finally, we want the quality and efficiency of this system to be cutting-edge to demonstrate our nation's gratitude to you for your sacrifice and dedication to duty.

Such smart uses of technology and information sharing carry the potential to change the balance of power in the fight against crime.

As your innovative work at the local level has shown, information systems such as CompStat can direct anti-crime efforts to the hottest zones of criminal misconduct. Combined with aggressive, coordinated law enforcement, we know effective information sharing can protect lives, protect liberties, and put predators in prison.

Progress is possible. Justice is achievable. The men and women of law enforcement have proven this time and time again.

On July 4th, we will celebrate once again the extraordinary words and deeds that inspired the Declaration of Independence.

In that document, the Signers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom. Their hardiness and valor saw our nation through war and revolution. Their vigilance, perseverance, and dedication to justice established an independent nation built on freedom and the rule of law.

The flag that flew over the capitol where they toiled those long, hot summers has changed--but only in the number of stars. The colors--and the ideals--are the same.

We have the honor to continue their work. In our hands is the responsibility to pass on the blessings of liberty to our posterity. I know we will not fail, because you have already proven that we can succeed mightily. Justice is our charge to keep, and we will not rest until every life is protected by the law we are sworn to uphold.

God bless you, and God bless America.