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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker Delivers Remarks at the 2018 Project Safe Neighborhoods Conference Awards Ceremony


Kansas City, MO
United States

Thank you, Jim for that generous introduction and thank you for your outstanding record of service in the military as a prosecutor, at Main Justice, and now at EOUSA.  You’re doing great work. 

Thank you also to:

  • Kansas City U.S. Attorneys Tim Garrison and Stephen McAllister,
  • Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith for the Midwest hospitality,
  • Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio,
  • Deputy Director Tom Brandon of ATF
  • Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon of DEA
  • Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd,
  • My good friend Matt Dummermuth, the head of our Office of Justice Programs,
  • Acting Director Katie Sullivan of our Office on Violence Against Women,
  • The head of our COPS office, Phil Keith,
  • Associate Deputy Attorney General, Robyn Thiemann
  • The dozens of U.S. Attorneys who are here with their teams, and
  • Each of you, who made the commitment to be here at the Conference this week, and who have partnered with the Department of Justice to make the PSN program work in your home cities.

I also want to thank President Donald Trump for joining us tomorrow.  I think that his attendance at this conference says a lot about his commitment to supporting law enforcement and keeping the people of this country safe.

I want to thank him for honoring President George H.W. Bush by declaring yesterday a National Day of Mourning.  I know the law enforcement community is especially mourning his loss.  President Bush was a strong supporter of law enforcement and he helped lay the foundation for 22 years of declining crime in America.

So thank you to President Trump for honoring President Bush and for honoring us with his presence tomorrow.

Above all, I want to thank our 16 award winners.

We received dozens of worthy nominations this year.   But even with tough competition, each one of you stood out for recognition.

Each one of you has helped this Department reach new levels of effectiveness and productivity by implementing and supporting PSN, which is our flagship violent crime reduction plan.

After all, PSN is about empowering our people out in the field.  Rather than having Washington, D.C. dictate a uniform approach, PSN directs our U.S. Attorneys to work with their communities to develop a customized crime reduction plan to target the most violent criminals in the most violent areas, and to prevent and deter violent crimes before they happen.

I ran this program for five years as a United States Attorney in Southern Iowa and I know that it works.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  I’ve personally prosecuted PSN cases.  So have my friends AUSAs Melisa Zaehringer and Kevin VanderSchel, who are here with us.  Kevin became my First Assistant in 2009, and then later served as Acting U.S. Attorney.  Kevin and Melisa, thanks for being here.

When I was U.S. Attorney, PSN helped us put away two gunmen who held a 76-year old woman at gunpoint for an hour while they ransacked her farmhouse.  The two men cut her phone line, destroyed her cell phone, and stole her car.  A few weeks later, one of the defendants—who was a felon—bought two guns from an undercover ATF agent.  He was arrested and the ATF agent found some of the stolen valuables in his car.  He called the police in Iowa and asked if there had been any robberies in the area recently. That led to an investigation that put the robbers behind bars and achieved justice for that elderly woman.

For another example, Davenport Police responded to a call after a man allegedly threatened a woman, shot a gun into the air, and then stole a car and drove away. A week later, police across the river in East Moline responded to another call of a man making threats with a gun and then speeding off.  The man was then pulled over for speeding back in Davenport.  The officer recognized the vehicle, searched it, and found a gun.  That was enough to put him behind bars so he couldn’t threaten anybody with a gun anymore.

In Clinton, Iowa, a convicted felon beat up another man behind a convenience store with a shotgun.  He was caught with the shotgun and we put him behind bars for nearly five years as a felon in possession of a firearm.

I could go on and on.  We had many other successes because of PSN.

And those successes continue today in Iowa and across America.

The Southern District of Mississippi started Project EJECT—which brings together federal and local officers and prosecutors, the Mississippi state crime lab, nonprofit organizations, faith leaders, and community leaders.  This team then works together to prosecute crime, deter crime, and help former prisoners make the transition back to society.  They hold town meetings and speak at local schools to keep kids away from criminal activity. 

In other words, they’re hitting violent crime from every angle—and it shows.  As of October, violent crime is down 16 percent in Jackson.

Our PSN Task Force in Dallas is Texas-sized: it brings together 60 people, including law enforcement officers, local government officials, local school personnel, and 15 community organizations. 

Collaboration between officers at the federal, state, and local levels in Dallas has already led to more than 100 arrests of violent criminals in just the past eight months.  And task force members have already strengthened the bonds between the community and our police officers through more than 40 community meetings and events.  Once a month, they meet with former prisoners returning home.  They’ve already met with 300 former offenders and worked to help them get their lives back.

In Tampa, Captain Paul Lusczynski came up with the Violent Impact Player program—or VIP.  Using criminal records and gang membership, Paul determined who the most violent criminals in Tampa are—and now he’s helping to put them behind bars. One study credits VIP with a 7.9 percent drop in violent crime.

Of course, there are about 91 other districts that are achieving PSN successes, too—including right here in Kansas City.

Tim and his team recently conducted a PSN operation called Operation Washout, which led to the arrest of 56 known gang members or repeat violent offenders.  Officers also seized methamphetamine, ecstasy, cocaine, and 13 guns as part of this operation.

We are building on this success here in Kansas City with the brand new Midwest Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which just became fully operational in September.

Here and across America, PSN is making us better at investigating crime, targeting prosecutions, and preventing and deterring crime.  It’s making our lawyers and our officers more effective.

And the numbers bear that out.

In fiscal year 2017, the Department of Justice prosecuted more violent criminals than in any year on record to that point.  And then, in fiscal year 2018—after Attorney General Sessions announced that PSN was a priority again—we broke that record by a margin of 15 percent.

In fiscal year 2018, we also charged the highest number of federal firearm defendants in Department history.  We broke that record by a margin of 17 percent.  We charged nearly 20 percent more firearm defendants than we did in 2017 and 30 percent more than we charged in 2016.

Meanwhile we have also broken records for prosecuting illegal entry by illegal aliens, increased the number of white collar defendants, the number of drug defendants, and increased the number of illegal aliens prosecuted for felony re-entry by 38 percent.

These numbers speak for themselves.  But our goal as a Department is not to fill up the jails or the courts: our goal is to reduce crime.  PSN is helping us do that by ensuring we are prosecuting the right people and maximizing our impact. 

Violent crime and homicide were up in 2015 and 2016—but they were down in 2017.  And for 2018, they will probably be down even lower.  One estimate projects that the murder rate in our 29 biggest cities will decline by 7.6 percent this year.  That means fewer victims, fewer grieving families, and more peace of mind for the people we serve.

Drug overdose deaths were up in 2015 and 2016—but they were down in the last six months for which we have data, and opioid prescriptions are down nearly 20 percent since 2016.

These are important achievements that affect people’s lives. 

And they’re your achievements.  Each one of you played a key role in making them possible.

It is right that we celebrate that this week.  But our work is not finished.  We are going to continue to support our state and local partners—and I am confident that those partnerships are going to continue to deliver results.

And so, to all of our award winners, thank you for your outstanding service.  And to all of you who are working side by side with us to improve safety and reduce crime—whether you are an officer, a prosecutor, a researcher, a faith leader, or a community partner—let me conclude with something a mentor of mine used to say:  We have your back, and you have our thanks.

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Updated December 6, 2018