Justice News

Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West Speaks at the National Institute of Justice Conference
Arlington, VA
United States
Monday, June 18, 2012

Thank you, Mary Lou, for that kind introduction. You and John have provided outstanding leadership in moving science to the forefront of criminal and juvenile justice, and thanks to your guidance and direction – and to the tireless work of your staff in the Office of Justice Programs and at the National Institute of Justice – we are fighting crime smarter, administering justice better, and achieving outcomes that are fairer.

It's also a privilege to be with all of you -- the best and the brightest of criminal justice researchers, practitioners, and policymakers from across the country and, in some cases, around the globe. Thank you for your commitment to building a more solid, sound, knowledge-based justice system. In a time of diminished resources and expanding priorities, you have been more thoughtful, more innovative, and more resourceful. You have maintained your focus on scientific evidence, and how that evidence can help us to find better answers to age-old questions about crime, its causes, and its consequences.

Because of your commitment and perseverance, science is helping us to confront some of our biggest criminal justice challenges. Whether through groundbreaking studies supported by NIJ or Dr. Laub’s emphasis on translational criminology; OJP’s Evidence Integration Initiative; or advances in the development of less-lethal weapons, science is guiding us on a path to a smarter, fairer, and more cost-effective system of justice.

And we see the real-world benefits every day -- take, for example, the safety of our nation’s law enforcement officers. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 2011 was once of the deadliest years for law enforcement in recent memory. This year, 50 officers have already lost their lives in the line of duty, 17 of them by gunfire. Attorney General Holder has called this state of affairs nothing less than a crisis, and we’re moving on all fronts to help protect those who risk their lives every day to protect ours.

One of those fronts is grounded in science. A centerpiece of the Department's response is being led by the National Institute of Justice, along with their colleagues at the Bureau of Justice Assistance and in our Community Oriented Policing Services office, through NIJ’s body armor standards and testing program. Since the program began in the 1970s, body armor has saved the lives of more than 3,000 officers. NIJ and its partners continue to develop, refine, and strengthen their testing protocols. And they are meeting the needs of public safety officers in the 21st century by expanding their portfolio to encompass chemical, biological, and nuclear protective gear.

Now the safety of our law enforcement officers depends not only upon the durability of their armor but also the strength of their well-being. That’s why NIJ commissioned social science research that is yielding new insights about officer safety and wellness. One recent study found that sleep disorders among law enforcement officers are at least double the rate of the general population, underscoring the heavy toll this work takes on our nation’s public safety professionals and illuminating important information that will help us help our law enforcement officers be more effective in their difficult work.

NIJ continues to explore the factors that influence officer safety and wellness and has published a pamphlet outlining what science proves to be practical steps law enforcement officers and leaders can take to enhance their protection. And over the next three days, you will hear more about this research and NIJ’s developments in safety technology.

Science not only holds benefits for our public safety professionals; it also holds promise for crime victims, who come in contact with the criminal justice system at what is often the most difficult moment of their lives. Among the most vulnerable are victims of human trafficking, and thanks to work by several of you in this room, we are improving our understanding of human trafficking, its dimensions, geography and the toll it takes on those who are exploited and abused. And the urgency behind obtaining a more comprehensive picture about human trafficking crimes is amplified by the fact that so many of the victims are children.

In fact later today, we are releasing a report on a NIJ-funded study that was carried out by Northeastern University. The study analyzed 140 closed trafficking cases in 12 sites across the country and found that 85 percent of the cases involved sex trafficking and that 62 percent involved a minor victim.

In addition to helping us better appreciate the dimensions of human trafficking, this report underscores the need for renewed vigilance in fighting these crimes. While we must continue to vigorously pursue organizers and suppliers in the sex trafficking industry, we must also expand our enforcement attention to more fully encompass the demand side – those who provide business to traffickers.

Tomorrow, you will hear from researchers who have compiled a new NIJ resource that will help us broaden our enforcement approach. Their NIJ report is a compendium of more than 800 demand reduction programs, covering everything from web stings and camera surveillance to billboard ads and the publication of names and photos of Johns. The report provides a comprehensive overview of efforts to focus on the demand side of sex trafficking and it will be a tremendous resource in our work to fight trafficking crimes.

Of course, what I've mentioned this morning are only a few of the research and technology advancements NIJ is supporting; the list is long and growing. This work is yielding important and often groundbreaking insights and because of its success in helping us fight crime smarter, the Department of Justice and this Administration will continue to support these efforts. President Obama’s budget request to Congress includes a significant allocation of OJP funds to support research, evaluation, and statistical programs, and the OJP Science Advisory Board appointed by the Attorney General – which will meet later this week – is helping to guide the Department’s work.

And, of course, the National Institute of Justice will continue to be the standard bearer for science in criminal justice. For more than four decades, NIJ has given us new knowledge and cutting edge tools to fight crime and ensure the fair administration of justice. And I believe that today, that work is more important than ever.

Ultimately, however, the role that science plays in forming our policies and practices -- that will depend on each of you: your commitment; your vigilance; your dedication to ensuring that our work to create a criminal justice system that is more effective, more efficient, more just, will rest not merely on a foundation of hope, or goodwill, or good intentions, but on a bedrock of integrity born of science and research.

Thank you very much, and thank you for all you do to keep our communities safe.

Updated September 17, 2014