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Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference


United States

Thank you, Chief [Craig] Steckler, for those kind words; for your leadership as President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; and for your four decades of service to law enforcement agencies across the state of California. It’s a privilege to share the stage with you today, and a pleasure to join Executive Director [Bart] Johnson, the IACP’s Board of Directors – and so many of your distinguished members – as we celebrate the achievements, and honor the sacrifices, of law enforcement professionals throughout the country and around the world.

I’d particularly like to thank Chief [Michael] Kehoe for taking the time to be with us here in Philadelphia.  He and his colleagues in Newtown, Connecticut have displayed remarkable leadership in a time of unspeakable tragedy, working to heal a community that has witnessed the very worst of humanity.  Our nation will be forever grateful for your service.

I’d also like to congratulate Pennsylvania State Trooper [Timothy] Strohmeyer on being named International Police Officer of the Year.  His courageous actions in the line of fire last December – when he placed his own life at great risk in order to save the lives of those around him – exemplified the very best of what it means to be a public servant.  He is a hero in the truest sense of the word. And it’s an honor to join the IACP in celebrating such a prestigious, and well-deserved, recognition.

Finally, I’d like to thank all of the federal law enforcement officials who are with us today – including my good friend, FBI Director Jim Comey, and representatives of the FBI, ATF, and DEA – for their dedication, and excellent work, during the recent federal government shutdown.  Although a substantial portion of the Justice Department’s workforce had to be furloughed – and many employees and their families faced hardships – you and your colleagues responded to this unnecessary and avoidable crisis with resolve.  You worked tirelessly to ensure that the Justice Department’s vital life and safety functions were not interrupted.  And alongside each of the local departments represented here this morning – and thousands of others, led by IACP members, across this country – you kept fighting to keep the American people safe.

For 120 years, particularly in moments of great challenge, the IACP has been a strong ally – and an indispensable leader – in our national efforts to do just that.  Through the decades, this organization has stood as a driving force for progress – advancing the struggle against crime and violence while protecting the safety of those on the front lines.  You’ve repeatedly proven the power of cooperation and collaboration across jurisdictions – and even international borders. You’ve stood up, and spoken out, for the physical and mental health of those who risk their lives to safeguard their communities.  And especially in recent years – through sequestration, furloughs, and unprecedented budgetary difficulties at every level of government – you’ve helped to secure historic progress in fulfilling the priorities we share.

As we speak – across the United States – your work is enabling us to make a meaningful, measurable difference in fighting terrorism, combating threats to the most vulnerable members of society, and preventing the gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence that steals too many promising futures each day.  In the last few years alone, you’ve brought your considerable expertise to bear in helping agencies like the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to strengthen the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.  You’ve bolstered our national network of Fusion Centers – so we can share information and intelligence more freely, communicate more effectively, and operate more efficiently than ever before. You’re moving in a variety of ways to counter global threats like cybercrime and violent extremism.  And here in Philadelphia, this week, you’re discussing some of the most urgent challenges your members face – including the critical role that every local police department must play in responding to active shooter situations such as last month’s tragic mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

Between 2000 and 2008, the United States experienced an average of approximately five active shooter incidents every year.  Alarmingly, since 2009, this annual average has tripled.  We’ve seen at least 12 active shooter situations so far in 2013.  Even more troubling, these incidents seem to be getting more and more deadly.

Over the last four years, America has witnessed an increase of nearly 150 percent in the number of people shot and killed in connection with active shooter incidents. Although research methods and results vary, it’s become clear that new strategies – and aggressive national response protocols – must be employed to stop shooters in their tracks.

In the past, patrol officers commonly trained to “contain and wait” an active shooting incident until more specially trained and equipped personnel could arrive.  But years of after-action analysis has ushered in a major tactical shift and reinforced the need for an immediate, aggressive response to active shooters.  In order to prevent additional casualties, it is often patrol officers – not necessarily SWAT teams – who serve as the tip of the spear in responding to these incidents.

The reality is that police don’t always have the luxury of time to get their most highly-trained, best-equipped officers on the scene.  To save lives, the first officers to arrive must sometimes be the ones to directly engage an active shooter.  That’s why all law enforcement officers must have the best equipment and most up-to-date training to confront these situations.  We owe these officers nothing less.

And we take this responsibility seriously.  This is why the FBI has partnered with the IACP and other groups to provide guidance to the first officers who arrive on the scenes of these crimes.  Over the last decade, the Justice Department has helped train 50,000 front-line officers, more than 7,000 on-scene commanders, and over 3,000 local, state, and federal agency heads on how to respond to active shooters. After the tragic losses at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we joined with the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Education to bring our comprehensive efforts to a new level.  And we’re currently engaging with other agency partners, law enforcement leaders like you, and outside experts to develop guidance for how schools, houses of worship, institutions of higher learning, and even ordinary citizens should prepare for active shooter incidents.

With your support, we’re placing an increased emphasis on the need to carefully evaluate threats, and certain individuals, in order to disrupt planned shootings and other violent attacks.  The FBI’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center works daily with local law enforcement and others to assess individuals who may be on a trajectory to commit acts of violence.  Since 2011, the Center has reported hundreds of successful disruptions – including an anticipated 150 this year alone. In every case – both in the intervention process, and when responding to active shooter incidents – local law enforcement officers have saved innocent lives by reacting with integrity, courage, and uncommon valor in the face of these too-frequent tragedies.

As we move forward with these efforts, I want to assure you that leaders at every level of the Justice Department and the FBI are determined to continue working with the IACP to make sure your members have the tools, training, and guidance they need to respond to active shooter incidents – and other threats – whenever and wherever they arise.  And we’re committed to continuing the frank and constructive dialogue that our organizations have built over the last century.

This is why I’ve made it a priority to take part in the IACP’s annual conference every single year since becoming Attorney General.  Throughout my career – as a prosecutor, as a former judge, and as the brother of a retired police officer – I’ve been inspired, and humbled, by the bravery of men and women in law enforcement.  I’ve been proud to support leaders like all of you.  And I’m here today not just to engage with you – and learn from you – but also, quite simply, to say thank you: for your tireless commitment to public service.  For consistently bringing innovative leaders together – at forums like this one – to discuss pressing challenges.  And – especially – for stepping to the forefront of our national efforts to address the deficiencies and disparities that have plagued America’s criminal justice system for far too long.

As I indicated in August, in a speech before the American Bar Association in San Francisco, President Obama and I are determined to work with Members of Congress from both parties – as well as state leaders, local officials, and law enforcement – to keep protecting public safety while strengthening our criminal justice system as a whole. With this goal in mind – under the Department’s new “Smart on Crime” initiative – I’ve announced a number of changes that will enable us to forge the stronger neighborhoods, the safer communities, and the more just society that all of our citizens deserve.  These include modifications to the Justice Department’s charging policies with regard to mandatory minimum sentences for certain federal low-level, drug-related offenses. This will help ensure that individuals accused of these crimes can face sentences that are better suited to their alleged conduct – and that limited criminal justice resources can be use more effectively, to hold accountable violent criminals, drug kingpins, and high-level traffickers.

My colleagues and I are also taking steps to advance proven strategies for improving reentry and reducing recidivism.  We’re exploring a range of innovative diversion programs, such as drug rehabilitation and community service initiatives, that can serve as alternatives to incarceration in some cases. And we’ll be counting on your continued leadership – and close engagement – as we implement these changes and continue to move forward with the kinds of comprehensive public safety solutions that the IACP has championed for decades.

I’m confident that these targeted reforms will help to address concerns that all of us share.  Just as importantly, they will improve the ability of policymakers and law enforcement to allocate resources to the areas that need our assistance – and your hard work – the most.

After all, as police chiefs, you have some of the most difficult jobs in America.  On a daily basis, you’re charged with maintaining order in communities that are sometimes defined by disorder and distress.  The fact is that a disproportionate number of those communities are communities of color – where young African American and Latino men are at increased risk of becoming involved with our criminal justice system, as victims or as perpetrators.

These are communities where too many Americans are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration – and where law enforcement officers work heroically, but often against long odds, to stem a seemingly relentless tide of violence.  Interactions between area residents and officers on patrol are, in too many cases, characterized by distrust and even hostility – on both sides.  We’ve seen all too often that some law enforcement officers believe that community residents tolerate and even encourage disrespect for the law – while some citizens feel that the police unfairly target them for mistreatment and abuse.

That’s why it’s time to declare, once and for all, that we must do better – as a country and as a people.  For the safety of our men and women on the front lines – and in the name of winning the respect and cooperation of America’s minority communities – it is incumbent upon law enforcement leaders to help bridge this divide.  And we can start by recognizing that compliance with the law begins not with the fear of arrest or even of incarceration – but with respect for the institutions that guide our democracy.

A substantial body of research tells us that – when those who come into contact with the police feel that they are treated fairly – they are more likely to accept decisions by the authorities, obey the law, and cooperate with law enforcement in the future – even if they disagree with specific outcomes. Clearly, each of us has an opportunity, and a responsibility, to refocus on engagement with the individual communities we serve – by involving our fellow citizens in the process of establishing clear norms of behavior; by setting standards for right and wrong; and, ultimately, by relegating the era of suspicion and distrust to the past.

I’m pleased to note that many of the police departments represented here – under the leadership of visionary executives in and beyond this room – have already demonstrated their commitment to the process of reconciliation. Across the country, countless IACP members and their colleagues are applying groundbreaking research – in procedural justice, implicit bias, and truth-telling – to the jurisdictions they serve.  I’m proud to report that the Justice Department is supporting this work through our COPS Office and the Office of Justice Programs – under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, who we’re fortunate to have with us this morning.

In many places, these collaborative efforts – to provide training on procedural justice, to promote reconciliation, and to improve interactions with police and young people of color – are already showing tremendous promise.  Yet a great deal of work remains to be done when it comes to supporting police departments, increasing public safety, and standing with every member of the rank-and-file.

This is why, in addition to your success, my colleagues and I are also firmly committed to your safety. Despite the ill-advised sequestration and other shortfalls, the Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded nearly $280 million during Fiscal Year 2013 – under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program – to support more than 50 states and territories and over a thousand local jurisdictions.  Under our groundbreaking VALOR initiative – which I announced at an IACP conference three years ago – we’ve held 77 trainings to help prevent violence against law enforcement, and to improve officer resilience and survivability during violent encounters.  To date, more than 11,000 officers have completed this training.  Our COPS Office is currently offering additional resources – convening an Officer Safety and Wellness Working Group and distributing funds to support the hiring and retention of officers across the country.  Just last month, I traveled to Detroit to announce the latest round of COPS hiring grants – which will award 263 agencies a total of $125 million to help fund nearly 1,000 law enforcement positions, including more than 350 school resource officers.

Beyond these important resources, the Department is working to provide our officers with the lifesaving equipment they need to do their jobs both safely and effectively.  Since our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program was launched more than a decade ago, we have awarded more than $270 million toward the purchase of over one million protective vests.  We’ve also instituted a “mandatory wear” policy for all uniformed officers in jurisdictions receiving BVP funds. In 2012 alone, vests saved the lives of no fewer than 33 officers in 20 different states.  Thirteen of these vests – including the one that most likely saved Trooper Strohmeyer’s life – were purchased, in part, with BVP funds.  And as we come together today to continue this important work, to build upon the progress we’ve seen, and to carry our collective efforts into the future, I want all of you to know that – for today’s Justice Department, and for this Attorney General – all of this is only the beginning. 

We will never stop fighting for the tools and resources you need.  We’re committed to complementing the work you do every day – through your Center for Officer Safety and Wellness and your renewed focus on preventing officer suicide – to ensure that America’s finest can protect themselves.  To honor – and empower – all who wear the badge.  And to help overcome the challenges that lie ahead – and secure the future we must build – by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with every member of America’s premier law enforcement organization.

I look forward to all that we must, and surely will, achieve together.  I am proud, and deeply grateful, to count you as colleagues and partners.  I thank you, once again, for all that you do.  And I wish you all a most productive conference.

Updated August 18, 2015