Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Laurie. It is a distinct privilege to join you, Director Kris Rose, distinguished criminal justice scholars, policymakers, and practitioners, as you gather to review research that shows what works, what doesn’t work, and areas in need of further study in various areas of criminal justice.
We’ve been very busy at the Justice Department these days – as you might have noticed – but I couldn’t forego the opportunity to come and talk about the importance of research and technology to the Department’s mission. Laurie and I have talked many times, and at great length, about ways we can continue to promote the Department’s long history of reliance on, and support for, innovative research and program development in criminal justice. Career staff members at NIJ have always cared deeply about the agency’s mission, and they’ve done an outstanding job of being the standard of excellence in the field. Let me be clear: this Administration shares your belief in the power of evidence-based research to help address some of our nation’s most significant challenges.
President Obama has renewed our nation’s commitment to rely on science in the development of public policy. He understands, as do I, that sound judgment derives from solid evidence. Moreover, we understand that the production of such evidence requires resources. As a result of this understanding, the President’s 2010 budget calls for increased investment in scientific research, including criminology.
As a prosecutor I have always craved the information that criminologists have to share. There’s an unfortunate and erroneous assumption that practitioners, including prosecutors and law enforcement officers, don’t have an interest in examining research. I can tell you from experience that that’s not true.
For example, as a prosecutor, I want to know if an intensive focus on gun crimes works to drive down violent crime overall. I choose that example because NIJ has recently released an evaluation of programs that strive to reduce gun crimes. These programs came under the name “Project Safe Neighborhoods” in the last Administration, and were built on programs like Boston’s Ceasefire, Richmond’s Project Exile, and the Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative from the Clinton Administration.
The research found that cities that deployed a coordinated, multi-level, and multi-disciplinary approach involving enforcement, deterrence, and prevention strategies experienced a 4.1 percent decrease in violent crime, compared with a less than 1 percent decline elsewhere. Furthermore, in cities where federal prosecutors were most active, violent crime went down more than 13 percent, in contrast to an almost eight percent increase where federal prosecution was low.
That’s important information for prosecutors and law enforcement officials to have. It can encourage jurisdictions to try new approaches centered on cooperation and coordination, because research shows that it works.
In addition to research, as most of you know, NIJ has a huge portfolio of technology programs, ranging from DNA and forensics to less-lethal technology to biometrics to communications interoperability. These programs are so essential that we have designated an additional $10 million from the Department of Justice’s Recovery Act funding to support them.
Technology enables us to advance one of our highest priorities, improving the safety of our nation’s law enforcement officers. We dedicate substantial resources to protecting officers in the line of duty, and these activities are so important that I’d like to take a moment to talk about them.
Among our most important and effective officer safety programs is our body armor initiative. Body armor was introduced to law enforcement officers on a large scale more than 30 years ago. In the intervening years body armor has had an almost impeccable safety record, saving the lives of more than 3,000 officers.
But six years ago this month, Sergeant Ed Limbacher of the Forest Hills, Pennsylvania, Police Department was shot in the arm and abdomen with a .40 caliber semi-automatic during a drug bust. Unfortunately, the shot to his abdomen penetrated his vest, causing severe injuries and some paralysis. Sergeant Limbacher was wearing body armor constructed primarily of a high-strength organic fiber called Zylon. This was the first instance of standards-compliant body armor failing to prevent penetration of a bullet it was designed to defeat. This failure led NIJ to revise its standard for body armor safety and to improve testing methods to guard against aging and environmental damage, among other things.
Sergeant Limbacher recently called to thank us for the work NIJ had done to revise the standard, and he joins us today to show his support of the work NIJ continues to do to protect our nation’s law enforcement officers. Sergeant Limbacher is living testimony of the value of our research and development efforts to those who serve on the front lines in our communities. Thank you for being with us today, Sergeant Limbacher and thank you for your service. You are a true hero.
There are countless other areas of public safety where research has the potential to transform, not only the way criminal justice agencies do business, but the way the public perceives our criminal justice policies. Tomorrow, you’ll hear from Al Blumstein about some exciting research he’s doing for us in the area of reentry. His work is potentially transformative.
We all know that one of the biggest barriers to reentry is employment. Most employers perform criminal background checks on everyone they consider hiring and have varying levels of concern about the criminal records of prospective employees. That means that people with criminal records are always vulnerable to being turned down for a job. In many cases, employers may want to hire an otherwise qualified person, but they feel that his or her criminal record suggests a future risk of criminal conduct. Without some ability to assess whether a person with a criminal record presents a greater risk than someone else, they prefer to err on the side of caution and pass him or her over.
This new research – which is preliminary and ongoing – has found that there may well be a point at which someone who has committed a crime is no longer at any greater risk of committing a future crime than someone who has never committed a crime before. This could be groundbreaking, because it could provide empirical guidance to employers on how to assess a potential employee’s past criminal record, and it would help to lower the barriers for people with criminal records who are trying in good faith to re-establish themselves in their communities.
This would give a tremendous boost to our reentry efforts, which have strong support from the President. I look forward to hearing more about this study, and I want to thank Al and NIJ for their good work.
You at NIJ are not only the scientists, you are also the builders. As you design and test your theories, you construct a foundation on which together we will build strong, credible policies.
I thank you for your commitment to science and to improving the world in which we live. What you do is important to every citizen in this country. Your work is essential, and is recognized as such, by me and by this Department of Justice and by this Administration. On the basis of your hard work we will make every American more safe and our nation more secure.