Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be with you here today. As legislative and business leaders from around the country, you are close to the people we all serve. And meetings such as this one, and organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, help us gather and share the collective wisdom we need to serve this nation.
My job as Attorney General is to lead the Department of Justice in enforcing the Constitution and laws enacted under it, with the expectation that doing that will achieve justice. But we are certainly and by far not the only ones charged with the task of enforcing the laws—there are fewer than 25,000 federal law enforcement officers in the Department, compared to some 800,000 officers at the state and local level.
Also, the Department is charged only with the enforcement of federal laws. Although there are many such laws, the number does not come close to the number of state and local laws enacted by people like your members. So, if we are to succeed in protecting the American people and preserving their rights, it is essential that the Department of Justice work closely with our counterparts at the state and local level. We have to be partners not just in arresting criminals and bringing them to justice, but also in developing the strategies that build strong and healthy communities.
This philosophy is consistent with the design of our Constitution. In Federalist number 45, James Madison wrote, and I quote: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." And although the powers and responsibilities of the Federal government certainly have increased since Madison wrote these words, his central point remains valid. Not every problem in America has a federal solution.
Quite often, it is state and local leaders and state and local governments who have the best sense of which strategies work and which do not. There are very few one-size-fits-all solutions out there. Often, the best strategies for one place are specific to that place, and draw on the local knowledge and culture that only people living there can provide. This is a key element of our partnership – the Department learning from the state and local experts, from the people who wear the boots on the ground.
In order to take advantage of that expertise, we have used a task-force approach to address specific threats, such as gang violence, drugs, identity theft, human trafficking and online child exploitation. Task forces allow us to work with local authorities to identify the exact nature of the challenges they are facing, and the best means to overcome those challenges. And they let us target resources where they are needed the most and where they show the most promise. Through close coordination, we also avoid needless duplication and free up resources to help other states and local communities.
The task force approach has the added benefit of bringing together, as true partners, a broad range of local police and sheriffs, federal agents, educators, business leaders, faith-based and community organizations, and state and local officials. As partners, we can look at what has worked around the country and develop successful strategies for tackling these complex issues. It is a goal that I know is shared by ALEC members.
One example of the success of this approach is our fight against human trafficking. In November 2004, the Justice Department began organizing and funding anti-trafficking task forces across the country. In 39 cities, these task forces, each led by the local U.S. Attorney, have brought together federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors, as well as social services agencies and advocates, to find and rescue victims and to prosecute offenders.
The Department has also hosted large training conferences and smaller, issue-specific sessions. These training programs are a two-way street. Our Civil Rights Division shares the latest intelligence from the federal perspective, but we also learn about what has worked and what hasn’t worked on the local level. The goal is to improve the level of knowledge, communication, and collaboration of all participants. In this way, we've trained 75,000 people to help in the fight against human trafficking. That's a sizeable force to help us in this struggle.
In addition to this training, the FBI, in partnership with our Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, also known as NCMEC, leads the Innocence Lost National Initiative to address the growing problem of children exploited in prostitution. This Initiative uses task forces in targeted cities across the country to identify victims, provide needed services, and prosecute offenders. State and local law enforcement, as well as local community organizations, are key partners in these task forces, whose work has resulted in the rescue of 400 children and more than 300 convictions.
We are also working with states on the legislative front. Following an approach that has worked so well for ALEC, the Department drafted a model statute for states to consider in furthering their own anti-trafficking efforts. In the spring of 2005, we sent letters to leaders in all 50 states and in the U.S. territories urging them to address this terrible crime and providing the model as a guide. And thanks to the efforts of many of you, at last count 33 states had adopted anti-trafficking laws.
We can all take pride in that kind of success, which gives us a foundation upon which to build. Although the federal government has tremendous authority, we are well aware of the power that rests in the statehouses and town halls. We are proud of the federal convictions these task forces have won, but they are a drop in the bucket compared to what we can achieve with tough laws on the books in every state.
The successes that have resulted from this sort of cooperation among federal, state and local governments is one reason we oppose certain provisions of a trafficking bill that’s now pending in Congress. The bill would shift the balance by essentially federalizing the prosecution of prostitution, under the guise of calling it sex trafficking. Although prostitution is – and should be – a crime, we believe that state and local authorities are in the best position to fight it. And we are not alone in that belief. We are supported in opposing the bill by the National Association of Attorneys General, the National District Attorneys Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and many other organizations.
Beyond the fight against human trafficking, the benefits of federal, state and local cooperation can be seen in two other programs targeting specific types of crime: Project Safe Childhood, which fights the technology-assisted sexual exploitation of children, and Project Safe Neighborhoods, aimed at reducing gun crime.
Project Safe Childhood brings together federal agents with state and local police and non-profit organizations like NCMEC to take on some of the most troubling crimes imaginable. In the same way human traffickers hide in the shadows of society, these predators use the dark corners of the Internet to pursue their sick fantasies. And just as with human trafficking, if we are to stop them it will take all of us working together, with tough laws and committed enforcement.
We've set up 59 Internet Crimes Against Children task forces around the country to lead the effort. These task forces now have a presence in every state, from Alaska to Florida, to go after people who use the Internet to sexually exploit and to prey upon children. We've held training sessions for hundreds of state and local law enforcement officers. And we've launched public awareness campaigns to educate our kids, to help them make good decisions, and keep them from becoming victims.
Likewise, Project Safe Neighborhoods builds upon existing local programs that target gun crime and gang violence, and gives them additional ways to succeed. The numbers tell part, but by no means all, of the story. From 2001 through the end of fiscal year 2007, the Department filed more than 68,000 firearms cases against 83,000 defendants – about 12,000 of them last year alone. The conviction rate for those defendants last year was a record 92 percent, with nearly 75 percent sentenced to more than three years in prison.
Those are substantial numbers, but this is not a case of the feds sweeping into town and taking over. Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, the U.S. Attorney in each of the 94 federal judicial districts works with local officials to tailor a strategy to address gun crime problems in that district. Each district engages in prevention efforts through community outreach and media campaigns, and ensures that law enforcement and prosecutors have the training necessary to make the program work. And criminals who use guns are prosecuted under federal, state, or local laws, depending on which can provide the most appropriate punishment.
That last point is a crucial one. When it comes time to prosecute, the Department of Justice is committed to working collaboratively to do whatever will have the greatest effect. If that means we bring federal charges because the case is stronger in federal court or the sentences are tougher, the case should be a federal one. If state law works out better, the case should be handled by the state. I am not interested in who gets the credit, or whose statistics count the case. I’m interested in doing what needs to be done to reduce crime in this country. If we succeed, there will be more than enough credit to go around.
That brings me to one final example of successful partnership between the Justice Department and state and local officials: our efforts to preserve ballot access and voting integrity.
Elections, and the vote upon which they depend, are the bedrock of democracy. They are the principal way the people of this country hold our government leaders to account, and exercise our collective will. But we can do that successfully only if all of those entitled to vote are able to do so, and if all those votes are counted equally. And we can have confidence that the outcome of an election represents our will only if we have confidence in the process that produces that outcome.
I don’t mean to suggest that fair and free elections are the province and responsibility only of the federal government. Far from it. The actual administration of elections, of course, is handled by state governments, largely based on rules written by state legislatures. Just as we work in partnership with you and local law enforcement in fighting crime, however, we must work closely with you to best provide for smooth elections.
In case you hadn’t heard, some of those elections will be happening later this year. One of my highest priorities over the next few months is to do what we can to help state and local governments – to help you – so that those elections run as smoothly as possible, and so that the American people have confidence that these elections are run smoothly.
We will do that using the tools that Congress has given us, including laws such as the Voting Rights Act that guarantee access to the ballot for all Americans, and laws, such as those prohibiting voting fraud and campaign finance abuse, that safeguard the integrity of the ballot. And we will do it by working closely with civil rights groups and with state and local elections officials to identify and solve any problems in a timely and appropriate fashion.
The point is that none of us can do what we are supposed to do – work effectively on behalf of the American people – by working alone. We will continue to use the task forces that have worked so well, and to expand them where we can and as need suggests. We will continue to provide funding through programs like the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership, through which we will send another $200 million to the states to fight crime according to your needs and priorities, not ours. And we will continue to give flexibility to our U.S. Attorneys and law enforcement field offices to work with their local partners – whether in Texarkana or Tampa, Boise or Bangor -- and to develop the solutions that can best get the job done.
As legislators and business leaders, I know that you spend a lot of your day listening—to other community leaders, to police, to educators, and simply to citizens. You hear their concerns, and you know that often they are your best source for solutions. At the Department of Justice, we operate the same way. We look to you, and to mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs and others to tell us your concerns, and to help us identify solutions that we can implement together.
I thank you for being a part of that effort, and for your hard work more generally on behalf of the American people. I look forward to all that we can continue to accomplish together.