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Associate Attorney General Tony West Delivers Remarks at the Annual Awards Luncheon of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives Training Conference


United States

Thank you, Chief [John] Dixon for that kind introduction, for your leadership as First National Vice President of NOBLE, and for your dedicated service as Chief of Police for Petersburg, Virginia.  I’d also like to thank Assistant Chief Bryant, Interim Executive Director Akers, and NOBLE’s entire executive board and staff for their commitment to advancing this organization’s important mission.

It is a pleasure to join you all in Pittsburgh today.  I am honored to be among so many distinguished members of the law enforcement community and extend my congratulations and gratitude to today’s award recipients for their exemplary service.

I also bring greetings and congratulatory wishes from Attorney General Eric Holder, who values NOBLE’s steadfast partnership with the Department of Justice and appreciates the sacrifices you each make every day to ensure public safety and improve the communities you serve. 

This week, you have all gathered under the theme of “Bridging the Pathway to Justice and Equality.  As a prosecutor, I have had the privilege of working with law enforcement professionals like you who understand that the bridge to justice and equality is not simply built on arrests, drug busts, and takedowns.  Indictments, convictions, and prison sentences are an indispensable part of what we do, but it is not the sum total of our purpose. 

This is a something I learned nearly 20 years ago as a young attorney at the Department of Justice.  Back then, I had the good fortune of doing much of my work for Attorney General Janet Reno, and just before I left Main Justice to return to my home state of California to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a federal prosecutor, the Attorney General asked to see me one-on-one.  And during that meeting, she showed me an inscription on the wall just outside her private office.  It reads, and I’m paraphrasing, “The Government wins its case when justice is done.”  And Attorney General Reno told me that my job as a prosecutor was not to win as many cases as I could but to do justice in every case I handled.

Likewise, our purpose, as NOBLE’s own mission states, is to do justice by action.  We know that the bridge to justice is stronger when it rests on beams of innovation, collaboration, and community engagement; that it’s stronger when all the people we protect and serve are involved in the common cause of keeping our families, friends, and neighbors safe and our communities strong.

This philosophy is not new to NOBLE.  Since your founding days, you have promoted an approach to law enforcement that is community-oriented, service-driven, and justice-directed.  To you, community policing is not a passing fad or experimental strategy; to you, police-led community building is a primary objective.

It must be a primary objective because community policing is smart policing.  That’s why, in the nearly 20 years since the creation of the COPS Office, the Justice Department has invested more than $13 billion in COPS grants to promote community policing through hiring additional officers, developing and delivering training resources, promoting safer schools, and researching cutting-edge technology. 

And as we move toward the third decade of the 21st century, we must continue to challenge past practices and recalibrate our approach to public safety in ways that will allow us to make our neighborhoods safer and the bridge to justice and equality stronger.  So, today, I’d like to offer three principles for smarter, more effective law enforcement in this new age.

First, our law enforcement practices must rely upon data-driven innovation, which is not only smart, but absolutely necessary given that unprecedented cuts to law enforcement staff and services, layoffs and hiring freezes have forced many public safety agencies to maintain services with depleted rosters.   

In the face of this adversity, agencies have been both progressive and proactive in their adaptation, implementing strategies that use advanced technologies and proven practices to intelligently and efficiently deploy staff.

For instance, while it is not a panacea, research has shown that when police departments use data, analytics, and crime mapping to focus their shrinking resources on “hotspots” – those geographic areas within a jurisdiction that account for most of the crime – the results can be significant reductions in crime, drug trafficking, and disorder.  In Los Angeles, for example, one LAPD Division reduced homicides by an extraordinary 56% through the effective use of hotspot targeting in an area that had historically be defined by gang, gun and drug activity.

Four hundred miles north, in East Palo Alto, California, Chief Ron Davis’ police department is using data from a gunshot detection system to identify specific shooting hotspots and reduce gun violence.  Through the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance Smart Policing Initiative, East Palo Alto will use data mined from the system to obtain a more comprehensive understanding about the number, nature, location, duration and circumstances surrounding the incidents of shootings in that community – data that will help law enforcement develop and deploy hotspot-specific strategies, tactics, and responses.

At a time when all of our resources are shrinking, innovation goes hand in hand with a second principle for smart policing – effective collaboration among local, state, and federal agencies. 

Nowhere is this more important than in our collective efforts to protect the homeland.  At the Justice Department, we have worked hard to build trust with communities, to effectively address citizen concerns while at the same time improve information-sharing that will facilitate our counterterrorism efforts.  Working closely with the Department of Homeland Security, we have collaborated with cities like Miami, Boston, Austin, and Seattle, and have developed best practices on community engagement in our overall counterterrorism efforts – best practices that can be shared with other cities and communities across the country.

For example, our COPS Office is partnering with the Boston Police Department to draft a comprehensive after-action report detailing the steps taken to apprehend the Boston Marathon Bombing suspect.  This operation involved federal and state law enforcement, with cooperation from schools, businesses, and municipalities through the Boston area.  And officials at all levels of government, both within and outside the law enforcement community, have rightfully lauded Commissioner Ed Davis and the Boston Police Department for the collaborative approach they pursued following the violent attack on their city. 

From this tragedy flow several important lessons that will augment our continuous efforts to better identify extremist behaviors, prevent attacks on American soil, and improve our ability to identify and capture perpetrators if such an attack were to happen.

Effective collaboration among local, state, and federal partners is also critical as our nation undertakes comprehensive immigration reform.  From Charlotte, North Carolina, to Nashville, Tennessee, to Lincoln, California, a rising number of immigrants are becoming integral to neighborhoods across the country.  Our growing multicultural society presents new challenges and opportunities for law enforcement, as recent immigrants can frequently be among the most vulnerable to crime yet the least likely to report it.  This puts a premium on our ability to build bridges into and collaborate effectively with the immigrant communities we serve so that we can better detect and deter crime, offer protection, effectively gather evidence, and maintain public safety. 

That's why the work that you all do to foster positive police-immigrant relations is so vital to creating partnerships central to smart policing.  Three years ago, COPS funded the Vera Institute of Justice to take a comprehensive look at how law enforcement agencies developed effective police-immigrant relations and to document those practices for the policing field.  As a result, we now have practical information for law enforcement agencies and community partners who are looking to enhance their work with immigrant communities – resources including publications highlighting the best practices of certain policing agencies, an online toolkit, and podcasts featuring law enforcement personnel.

In addition, the Department’s Community Relations Service – or CRS – has worked to assist state and local law enforcement in preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders.  CRS offers a wide variety of services, including conciliation, mediation, and cultural competency training for police officers to help strengthen their connection to immigrant communities within their jurisdictions, thereby improving their ability to both prevent and respond to crime.

Collaboration is also vital for the third principle of smart policing in the 21st century – meaningful reentry for inmates returning to our communities. 

Every year, some 700,000 people are released from America’s prisons, and millions more cycle through local jails.  And if they’re not prepared, studies show that they’re likely to re-offend and be re-arrested.  In fact, the last major study of recidivism rates found that two out of three released prisoners were re-arrested for a new offense, and about half were re-incarcerated.  This has a profound impact on the communities to which these inmates return.  Because when reentry fails, the costs – both societal and economic – are high.

That’s why, under the Second Chance Act, the Department of Justice has made more than 400 awards totaling over $300 million to support adult and juvenile reentry programs.  These programs support substance abuse treatment, housing assistance, job training, family reunification, and a host of other services designed to help former inmates make the transition back into their communities.  They form an overall community framework that focuses on reducing crime and recidivism through collaborative partnerships that include law enforcement, corrections, faith-based and community organizations, families, victim services, and other community stakeholders. 

Reentry is also at the heart of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative underway in 34 jurisdictions.  The Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance in coordination with the Pew Center on the States, supports a data-driven approach to criminal justice reform designed to generate cost savings that can be reinvested in high-performing public safety strategies. 

One example of this strategy is found right here in Pennsylvania.   In October 2012, the state enacted comprehensive legislation designed to increase public safety by reducing the prison population, the growth of which had become a fiscal anchor that was dragging down the rest of the state's budget.  Once implemented, funds will be re-directed from corrections to community-based alternatives, and the savings generated will be invested to support crime victims’ services, law enforcement, probation, parole, and the expansion of release risk and needs assessment efforts.  And it is estimated that taxpayers will obtain cumulative savings of up to $253 million over five years due to this approach. 

So meaningful reentry is not only smart on crime; it can also be smart for our public budgets.  There is no inconsistency between holding people accountable and improving public safety on the one hand, and on the other, saving taxpayer dollars and fostering more stable neighborhoods and stronger families by facilitating the ability of those who have served their time to obtain work, secure housing, and be productive, contributing members of our communities.

These three principles — data-driven innovation, effective collaboration, and meaningful reentry — certainly are not the only approaches to smarter policing in this new century, but they are important as we continue to build the bridge to justice and equality in this challenging climate of contraction, subtraction, and sequestration.

And, of course, no strategy or approach -- no matter how innovative or well-researched or exhaustively documented – will succeed without dedicated law enforcement professionals to champion them, in both good times and bad; to take them off the novelty shelf and weave them into the fabric of policing in departments throughout this country.  That’s why we need you – each and every one of you – to make real the promise of smart policing in the 21st century.

Thank you for allowing me to share this day with you, and thank you for the sacrifices you make each day to keep our communities safe.

Updated September 17, 2014