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Attorney General Eric Holder at the National League of Cities Conference


Washington, DC
United States


Remarks as prepared for delivery.


Good afternoon. I am so happy to be with you today and delighted to see so many friends in the audience.

Mayor Novak, thank you so much for that kind introduction, and congratulations on your leadership of this outstanding organization. The National League of Cities has long played a vital role in strengthening and promoting our nation’s cities. Your mission is all the more important now, at this critical moment, when our cities are bearing so many of the burdens that accompany this economic crisis. Thank you for all that you are doing.

To all of you in the audience, it is always good to be with public servants who are closest to the people they serve and who have the most direct impact on Americans’ everyday quality of life. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that oftentimes, long before those of us in Washington even know a problem exists, you in local government have identified it, you’ve diagnosed it, and you’ve developed and implemented a solution that works. So I want to thank all of the mayors, council members, and other public servants here today for all that you do to make our streets safer, our economy stronger, and our nation healthier.

As you know, I have only been on the job as Attorney General for a few short weeks. But I have already come to realize that there is a need to improve the relationship between federal law enforcement and our nation’s cities. I suppose that some of this is understandable, given the reorientation of that relationship after 9/11. The Justice Department now has a national security focus that it frankly did not have when I left the Department in 2001, and quite properly so.

But the success of our national security mission cannot come at the expense of the Department’s traditional mission of fighting state and local crime. If we are to succeed in both missions, and we must, it is absolutely imperative that we restore and revitalize federal law enforcement’s relationships with our nation’s cities, for three reasons.

First, our cities are, in a very real sense, on the front lines in our fight against terrorism. Your police officers are often the first to see a threat and the first to report it. And information reported by a cop on the street in Omaha can make a difference in thwarting an attack in San Francisco. We are making a big mistake if we don’t find ways to partner with urban law enforcement to multiply our forces in the fight against terrorism.

Second, our urban police departments are critical to our efforts to combat crime that is national or even international in scope. To some extent, all crime – like all politics – is local. But there is no question that much of the crime that is impacting American cities today – from gangs to organized crime to white collar crime to drugs – stretches across the country from city to city, and to foreign countries. Simply put, we need each other’s help if we are going to eradicate these highly sophisticated criminal enterprises from our city streets.

To take one example, last month, we announced the results of Operation Xcellerator, a 21-month effort targeting the Sinaloa Cartel that has led to the arrest of 750 individuals and the confiscation of more than 23 tons of narcotics. That operation was a success only because of the cooperation between federal and local law enforcement authorities. Working together in the future, we can do even more to fight the dangerous threat these cartels pose to our communities. We must strengthen and expand joint federal/local efforts and work together in cross-jurisdictional task forces and working groups.

Third, the duty of safeguarding the public needs to be strengthened . . . from both sides of this podium. We in the law enforcement community must be inclusive – to begin thinking and working as one.

What one city on the Southwest border learns about drug cartels and human trafficking must be shared with communities facing similar challenges. What communities in California know about gang prevention, intervention and enforcement must be shared with cities across the country plagued by gang violence. Successful local strategies can become invaluable national models if given the proper support. Every best practice that goes unshared is a lost opportunity.

To that end, we must improve the sharing of information between federal and local law enforcement. As leaders in your community, you know what works in the fight against crime; we in the federal government must have the benefit of that vital information. As you know, threats to our communities come in many different shapes and sizes. Crime is always looking for a way in. With your help, we can find ways to keep it out.

And notice I said "we." I’m pledging here today that the Justice Department and this administration will work with you. That’s not just lip service. You have my personal commitment that, under my watch, the United States Department of Justice will work with you day in and day out to keep our cities safe. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and do the things we know we can do to bring about positive change to our cities.

The challenges we will face together will not be easy to solve, however. It is often said that cities are the engines of our nation’s economy, but they also bear a disproportionate share of the social costs in times of economic downturn. We know unemployment and poverty are directly correlated with crime rates. Young people who can’t find jobs turn too often to gangs and drugs. Economic troubles invariably lead to a demonstrable uptick in property crime. I’m not telling you anything new – you live and breathe these problems every day.

But as crime rates rise, the budgetary resources available to combat urban crime have dwindled. It has been recently reported that two out of three urban police departments are reporting budget cuts or hiring freezes. Many departments have been forced to leave hundreds of officer positions unfilled, or to cut back on special units designed to combat narcotics traffic, gangs, and other urban problems. And this budget crisis comes at the end of an eight-year period that has seen a nine percent per capita decrease in police officers nationwide.

Your cities are facing greater challenges than ever before, and with fewer resources to meet them. We know your budgets are strapped, revenues are down, and you’re not sure how to make everything add up. No mayor or city council wants to lay off police officers, but when the economy falters and your revenues plummet, you face impossible choices.

Well, I am here today to say that you will not face these challenges alone. I am pleased to tell you – mayors, council members, managers, administrators, police chiefs, planners and organizers – that today we are breathing new life into the DOJ office singularly focused on policing in America – the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or "COPS."

As many of you know, since 1995 the COPS program has awarded more than $10 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to more than 13,300 state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. In total, since the program’s inception, COPS funding has led to the hiring of nearly 117,000 officers. COPS has also awarded nearly $2 billion to more than 4,000 law enforcement agencies to buy advanced crime-fighting technology. And since the tragic events in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, the COPS program has put more than 6,000 school resource officers in schools throughout the nation. I worked directly with the COPS program in the late 1990s when I served as Deputy Attorney General, and I saw these successes firsthand.

It is thus a distinct personal pleasure to announce today that this critical program has been revitalized. Today marks the kick-off of one of the signature state and local partnerships enacted in recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the $1 billion COPS Hiring Recovery Program.

The COPS Hiring Recovery Program is a competitive grant program designed to address the full-time sworn officer needs of state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies nationwide. Through it, the Department of Justice will provide funding directly to local law enforcement agencies to hire new law enforcement officers, or to rehire experienced officers. We know how difficult things are today, and we want to do everything we can to ease the pressure you are facing to fund your police departments while making investments that will help your local economy and make us safer.

This additional investment will pump new resources into your communities through a program with a proven track record. This program is a win-win. We will not just create and preserve jobs, but also increase community policing capacity and crime-prevention efforts. Through the revitalized COPS program, we will create or save approximately 5,500 law enforcement officer jobs across the country and inject much-needed resources directly into your cities. We know you need new resources to keep your streets safer and make your economies stronger, and beginning today, we are making those resources available to you. I hope you will all go to today to begin applying – we want to get these new police officers out onto the streets of your cities and towns as soon as possible.

The revitalized COPS program is a major piece of our efforts to revitalize the economy and strengthen law enforcement, but it’s not the only one. Ten days ago, President Obama and I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to announce the launch of $2 billion in new Byrne Justice Assistance Grants from the Recovery Act.

Like the competitive COPS grants, that funding will keep our communities safer by putting more police officers on the street and more prosecutors in the courthouse. But it also has the flexibility to permit localities to invest in technology, crime-prevention, and other programmatic needs that will help keep our streets safe and young people away from crime. We’ve added new resources to hire more civilian staff and probation officers, and to help police departments invest in the radios and equipment they need to perform their duties effectively and safely.

And because this $2 billion in Byrne JAG grant funding is formula-based, you can access these much needed resources quickly. Once we receive your applications, we will start getting the money out the door within fifteen days. We will be smart in the way we allocate these resources, and we will hold ourselves accountable for the how the funds are spent, but we will ensure that their delivery is not delayed by bureaucratic red tape in Washington.

DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women will also be making available $225 million in funding in Violence Against Women Act grants to combat sexual assault. I know Vice President Biden considers passage of the Violence Against Women Act one of his proudest achievements in the Senate, and through this funding we will be able to do so much more to fight these horrible crimes.

The Recovery Act also provides $390 million from DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs for local law enforcement assistance, including $225 million in competitive Byrne grants, $125 million targeted for rural areas, and $40 million for the Southern border (including $10 million for ATF’s Project Gunrunner). And there is an additional $100 million through OJP for grants to assist victims of crime; $225 million for tribal law enforcement assistance; and $50 million for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces.

All told, through the Recovery Act, we will dedicate $4 billion to state and local law enforcement efforts – money that I hope will help you meet the critical challenges your communities face.

While the $4 billion in Recovery Act money will help, we all know that it is not enough. I have been in the criminal justice field for a long time -- as a prosecutor, a local trial court judge, a U.S. Attorney here in Washington, D.C., Deputy Attorney General, and now Attorney General. All of my experience has taught me that ensuring public safety and combating crime cannot just be the job of law enforcement – at any level.

While police are critical in keeping our streets, schools, and neighborhoods safe, they’re only one piece of the puzzle. We in this room are not just government officials. We’re also fathers, mothers, neighbors, Little League coaches, and Sunday school teachers. Those roles that we and so many others play are every bit as important as law enforcement in quilting together the fabric that keeps our communities strong.

Making sure our kids are in school, keeping an eye on the neighbors’ house while they are out of town, participating in a neighborhood watch, volunteering some time to mentor a child, or reporting suspicious activity in our neighborhoods; these are just a few of the things that each one of us can do to make our nation a safer place to live, work and raise our families.

It would be very easy for us to say, "That’s the job of the police." But policing is a shared responsibility. We’re at a point in our country’s history where breaking down barriers and working together is the only way to overcome the challenges we face. We must remember this every time a shooting occurs in a school, or every time an Amber Alert is issued, or every time a child is lost to gangs or drugs.

These values -- these principles of shared responsibility -- are not only applicable to the fight against traditional crime. They also apply to the ongoing fight against terrorism. The altered New York City skyline, the Pentagon’s chilling 9/11 memorial, and a scarred field in Pennsylvania remind us of the need for strong partnerships where every individual has a role to play.

So while I thank you today for all that you’ve done, I’m also here to say that in this time of economic hardship, our job will only more get more difficult. And so we must also sharpen the focus and strengthen the resources we bring to bear each and every day.

Under your leadership, I’m certain our cities can grow stronger, safer, and more prosperous. You have my personal commitment that, under my watch, the United States Justice Department will work with you in this effort. If we truly work together I am confident that we will succeed.

Thank you, again, for your leadership. Now let’s get to work.

Updated August 20, 2015