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Speech

Attorney General Delivers Remarks at ATF’s Third Annual Chiefs of Police Executive Forum on Crime Guns

Location

Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Delivered

I think Steve’s taller than me.

Good morning. Thank you, Steve. I am grateful for your leadership. And for the dedication of the extraordinary professionals of the ATF.

I am also grateful to all of the police chiefs who joined us at ATF headquarters this week. As I have said before, and I will say again, the Justice Department could not do its work without you and the officers you lead.

When I became Attorney General, I knew that grappling with the violent crime that had surged during the pandemic would be one of the most urgent challenges the Justice Department would face.

I knew well the scourge of violent crime. I was a drugs and guns line prosecutor during the crack wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s. And then I was a supervisor of prosecutors and agents in the Criminal Division at the Justice Department.

I knew that among the most powerful tools the Department has to confront violent crime would be our partnerships:

  • Our partnerships among federal law enforcement agencies assisting in the fight against violent crime;
  • Our partnerships with the state and local law enforcement agencies that protect their local communities every day; and
  • Our partnerships with the communities that we all serve.

So, we have spent the last three years pouring every available resource into strengthening those partnerships.

We have expanded access to the range of advanced technological tools here at ATF — including ballistics analysis, firearms tracing, and crime gun intelligence centers, as Steve just recounted.

We have worked in joint task forces with our state and local law enforcement partners to zero in on the individuals and gangs that have repeatedly committed violent offenses.

And we have put our grantmaking powers into work as well.

This has included:

  • Investing in essential programs through our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) and the Office of Justice Programs to allow police departments to hire more officers;
  • It includes investing in community policing efforts to build public trust; and
  • It includes investing in evidence-based community violence intervention initiatives aimed at preventing violence at the community level.

As we have worked to reduce violent crime, the Department has found committed partners on the state and local level at every turn.

Our shared commitment to deepening our partnerships, and to the public we serve, has already begun to show results.

FBI data shows a decrease in violent crime in communities across the country in 2023 compared to the previous year, including an over 13% reduction in homicides. That is the steepest decline, yearly decline in homicides, in over 50 years.

And last year’s trend appears to be continuing into this year. Based on data from police departments in 90 cities across the country, we saw an 18% year-over-year decline in murders in the first quarter of 2024.

That progress is reflected in some of the communities represented here today:

In Atlanta, there was a 21% drop in homicides in 2023.

In San Antonio, there was a nearly 29% drop in homicides and a 10% decrease in overall violent crime.

And in Philadelphia, there was a 20% decline in homicides.

This progress is thanks, first and foremost, to the brave men and women in your departments, who put their lives on the line to protect their communities every day. We know that there are families that did not lose a loved one because of the brave efforts of your officers.

We also know that our work is far from over. There is no acceptable level of violent crime.

Violent crime not only threatens people’s safety, it threatens their ability to go about their daily lives.

And needless to say, in this room, violent crime endangers the law enforcement officers who risk their lives every single day to protect their communities.

It has been a particularly tough year for law enforcement.

According to the FBI, 2023 marked a 10-year high for the number of officers assaulted or injured by firearms. Sixty officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty.

I know that none of us will give up until that number is zero.

Just upstairs, in this building, we recently [dedicated] a memorial to those who have lost their lives to the tragic epidemic of gun violence.

Of the 118 people honored in the memorial today, 39 are heroic law enforcement officers who were killed by gun violence in the line of duty.

They include a loving husband and father, who served for over two decades as a police officer, and whose heroism — even after he was shot — saved the lives of countless more officers.

They include a wife and mother who was a trailblazer in her police department, and who died in the line of duty while protecting others.

They include two FBI agents, who put their lives on the line to combat insidious crimes against vulnerable children and made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Justice Department is committed to honoring the memories of the fallen, and their families, through our continuing work to help keep our communities and the officers who protect them safe.

That is why we are continuing our efforts to fight gun violence on every front — from cracking down on criminal gun-trafficking pipelines, to updating regulations, to deepening our partnerships with state and local law enforcement.

In Cleveland, for example, a three-month crime reduction initiative brought together ATF, the Cleveland Division of Police, and almost a dozen other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. That operation resulted in charges against 59 individuals in connection with drug and firearms related offenses.

Thanks to ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) system, we know that a significant number of the guns seized during that investigation were connected to violent criminal activity.

We have also surged resources to other cities that experienced a record rise in violent crime.

In Houston, Memphis, St. Louis, Jackson, and Hartford, we launched a Violent Crime Initiative that brought prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in Washington to work closely with prosecutors already on the ground to target those responsible for the greatest violence.

As the Deputy Attorney General discussed yesterday, we are also using Crime Gun Intelligence Centers, or CGICs, to trace crime guns, link ballistics evidence to connect shootings, and identify gun traffickers and straw purchasers who arm violent criminals.

These Centers use cutting-edge technologies, including ATF’s NIBIN and eTrace systems, to rapidly develop and pursue investigative leads in order to find those who are responsible for violent crime.

I know that our Bureau of Justice Assistance is going to be speaking with you later today about grants that can be used to build new CGICs or expand existing ones. I encourage you to look into whether these grants can be used in your own work.

We are also using the tools created by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, or BSCA. BSCA expanded our authority to prosecute firearms traffickers and straw purchasers who buy guns for those barred by the law from possessing them.

I am pleased to announce that we have now charged a substantial number of defendants under that authority.

At the same time, BSCA’s expanded background checks have already kept more than 700 firearms out of the hands of young people who are legally prohibited from obtaining them.

The Act also gave us new tools to combat the flood of illegal guns into our communities. A recent ATF report found that illegal gun trafficking has been increasingly driven by firearms dealers who sell guns without a license, and who do not conduct background checks on their sales. Those black-market guns are often found at crime scenes.

That is why, pursuant to BSCA, the Justice Department has published a new rule to update the definition of being “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms.

Under this regulation, it does not matter if guns are sold on the internet, at a gun show, or at a brick-and-mortar store: If you sell guns predominantly to earn a profit, you must be licensed, and you must conduct background checks.

This regulation is an historic step in the Justice Department’s fight against gun violence. It will make law enforcement officers safer. It will make communities safer. It will save lives.

Right now, we are seeing the clear impact that our partnerships, technological advances, and regulatory tools can have on gun violence. As we recognize the progress we have made, I want to underline two points.

First: our work is far from over. Progress is only progress. Our work is not done until all Americans feel safe in their communities.

Second: none of this progress would have been possible without the enormous sacrifices made by your state and local law enforcement officers.

To the leaders from across the country who are joining us today, thank you. Please extend my deepest gratitude to the officers and troopers who serve your communities.

We ask so much of you. Never hesitate to ask us what you need from us.

Thank you for being here today.


Topics
Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime
Updated June 6, 2024