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Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker Delivers Remarks to the National Sheriffs’ Association’s Winter Conference


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Sheriff Layton for that introduction and for your four decades of service to your fellow Hoosiers, including over these last eight years as Sheriff of Marion County.

I also want to thank:

  • Secretary Nielsen for her remarks and for her partnership,
  • Jonathan Thompson for his leadership and advocacy for our nation’s 3,000 sheriffs,
  • Former Wisconsin Badger Troy Vincent.  Troy and I played against each other—and I am proud to say that my Hawkeyes won every time.  I hope there are no hard feelings about that.  But seriously, Troy, thank you for your strong support for law enforcement.

I especially want to thank my fellow Iowans who are here.  Thank you to Sheriff Dan Altena of Sioux County—thank you for your three decades in law enforcement.  And thank you to Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County—not far up the road from my hometown of Ankeny.  Thank you for your four decades in law enforcement.

Thank you all for being here.  On behalf of President Trump, I want to thank each of you for your service to our country.

Each one of you is continuing a proud and noble tradition.

America has changed a lot over the centuries—but sheriffs like you have always been there for us.

Sheriffs have kept the American people safe from the very beginning—and even before the beginning.  The Father of our country, George Washington, was the son of a sheriff.  The office of the sheriff was mentioned in Magna Carta 800 years ago and was already well-developed by that time.

This institution has endured through the centuries because it combines a broad jurisdiction with direct election by the people.  It meets a permanent need for strength and accountability in law enforcement. 

The people in your community have entrusted you with a great deal of power.  But they know you—and you know them.  Their priorities are your priorities. 

In my time in law enforcement, I have seen that firsthand.

Over my five and a half years as U.S. Attorney for Southern Iowa, I saw how local cases could quickly turn into federal cases—and how sheriffs could play a key role in federal cases, too.

For example, the Dallas County Sheriff’s office helped us pull off one of our most successful anti-drug operations over my time as U.S. Attorney.  The DEA received a tip that a large quantity of cocaine and ecstasy was on its way to Des Moines.

When it got to Iowa, Deputy Sheriff Adam Infante—who is now Chief Deputy in Dallas County—went undercover and purchased 3,000 ecstasy pills and several ounces of cocaine and marijuana.  That helped us put 15 drug traffickers behind bars and it helped us find the route used by the traffickers.  In total, we seized 22 pounds of cocaine, 4,400 pounds of marijuana, 7,000 grams of ecstasy, and $130,000 in cash.  This operation could not have succeeded without this outstanding sheriff’s deputy.

There are many other examples that I could talk about.  As a prosecutor, I saw over and over again that law enforcement works best when we combine the resources and the training of our federal agents with the street-level intelligence of local officers like your deputies.

Since I came back to the Department as Chief of Staff and now as Acting Attorney General, my experience with Iowa’s local law enforcement has informed my decisions and my priorities.

This Department of Justice recognizes that the vast majority of law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels.  We know that we cannot succeed and accomplish our goals without you.  And that recognition has guided everything that we do.

Above all, it has guided our efforts to reduce crime.

We’ve had our work cut out for us.  When President Trump first took office, violent crime had been rising sharply for two years.

From 2014 to 2016, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent nationwide.  Robberies went up.  Assaults went up by over 8 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 13 percent.  Murder went up by a shocking 21 percent.

But law enforcement has risen to the occasion.  And under President Trump, the Department of Justice has taken steps to help you and your deputies to be more effective.

We have helped police departments hire more than 800 law enforcement officers across America, including more than 100 sheriffs’ deputies.

With your strong support, we strengthened asset-sharing and accelerated our review of adoption requests.  In fact, our current policy is to review adoption requests twice as fast as is required by law.

But most importantly, we have worked to strengthen our relationships with sheriffs across America. 

For example, back in December, Phil Keith of our COPS office and Jon Adler of our Bureau of Justice Assistance heard about a partnership between eight sheriffs near our Southern border.  These sheriffs work together on drug interdiction: they tell each other what routes are being used by the smugglers, and they share intelligence in real time.  It is working. I’m told that they’ve already seized a total of more than $20 million in drugs.

This team effort inspired us at the Department to ask how we could help you replicate that success elsewhere on our border.  Phil and Jon have been working with you to create a Real-Time Intelligence Center that will empower Border sheriffs to share intelligence and interdict drug traffickers.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance is also providing resources, training, and technical assistance to local law enforcement along the border.  I would encourage any of our border sheriffs who are here to take advantage of this opportunity.

Even if you’re not a border sheriff, this training benefits you.  What happens at the border does not stay at the border.

According to a new study from our Bureau of Justice Statistics, a majority of federal arrests in Fiscal Year 2016 took place in districts along the U.S.-Mexico border—and 36 percent of defendants in federal district courts were illegal aliens.

That is unacceptable.  

This administration is determined to close the loopholes in our laws that are encouraging people to come here illegally—and we are enforcing the law effectively.

In category after category, the Department of Justice is more productive than ever.

In the last fiscal year, the Justice Department charged the greatest number of violent crime defendants since we started to track this category more than 25 years ago.  We broke the previous record by nearly 15 percent.

We also charged more than 15,000 defendants with federal firearms offenses, which is a record.  We broke that record by a margin of 17 percent.

Last year we charged more illegal aliens with illegal entry than ever before.  In fact, we charged 85 percent more defendants with illegally entering America than we did in the previous year.  And we increased the number of felony re-entry prosecutions by more than 38 percent.

All of these efforts that I’ve mentioned are adding up—and they’re bringing down the crime rate in counties all across America.

In September, the FBI released final crime statistics for 2017. They showed that the violent crime rate and the homicide rate both went down after two years of increases under the previous administration.

For 2018, one estimate projects that the murder rate in our 30 largest cities declined by 7.6 percent.  That is usually a good indicator of what is happening nationwide.

And as this crowd knows well: when you lock up gang members and violent criminals, you also have an impact on drug crime.

In fiscal year 2018, the Department of Justice charged six percent more drug defendants than in the year before.  We prosecuted 36 percent more opioid defendants than the previous four-year average.  We increased heroin prosecutions by 15 percent and oxycontin prosecutions by 35 percent.  We have broken records for fentanyl prosecutions two years in a row.

More importantly, drug overdose deaths may have finally stopped rising.

According to preliminary data from the CDC, fatal overdoses stopped rising in September 2017—and then decreased by two percent through April 2018.

This is preliminary data, but it is still encouraging.

As our efforts have shown over these last two years, law enforcement works.  And so I want to thank each one of you for your hard work. 

Thank you for your partnership in these efforts.  We could not achieve these results without you.

This Department is going to keep working for a secure Southern border.  We’re going to keep enforcing the law aggressively.  And we’re going to keep supporting you in your important work.

And so I want to conclude with something a mentor of mine used to say every time he spoke to law enforcement, and I believe it too: We have your back, and you have our thanks.

Updated February 11, 2019