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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Service Annual Conference


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Tom [Perrelli]. It is a privilege to join with you and Director [Barney] Melekian – and with Assistant Attorney General [Laurie] Robinson and so many colleagues and critical partners – on the first day of what I know will be a productive, informative, and – yes, very hot – week.

Thank you all for being here. It is good to be among so many old friends – and some of our nation’s most active, innovative, and dedicated law enforcement officers. I especially want to thank the COPS Office for the great work that they’ve done to bring such a wide array of leaders and experts together for this conference – and to develop a comprehensive, cutting-edge agenda.

As many of you know, under Barney’s leadership, the COPS Office has never been stronger. As he mentioned this morning, this office was expected to be a short-term initiative. But it quickly proved its worth – and, today, stands as a model of success. In their work with agencies and police departments nationwide, the COPS Office has driven vital efforts to improve public safety strategies and law enforcement operations. This collaboration has led to historic reductions in crime – and helped to secure and empower communities across the country.

My personal involvement with the COPS Office stretches back to its initial days, in 1994, when I served as the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. It was a time of significant – and unprecedented– public safety threats. The challenges of the day demanded a new approach in policing strategies – and a new focus on inviting community stakeholders into the work of fighting crime, building trust between officers and local residents, and improving public confidence in the efficacy of law enforcement and the integrity of our criminal justice system.

Throughout the ‘90’s, I saw firsthand how – by raising awareness about the value of community policing; by making targeted investments, especially in research and technology; by providing a forum for information sharing; and by bringing officers and community members together – the COPS office helped to enhance law enforcement activities and, even in the face of great odds, to improve public safety.

During my tenure as Attorney General, I’ve been impressed – and inspired – by its work once again. Over the last two years, the COPS Office has advanced the Justice Department’s mission to be smart, as well as tough, on crime. And its initiatives and investments are helping chiefs and sheriffs in every region of the country navigate extraordinary financial challenges

I’m proud of this work. And every officer in this room should be proud of what you and your colleagues have achieved in recent years. You have reaffirmed the power of community engagement in strengthening public safety. And, because of your efforts, national crime trends are heading in the right direction. In our inner cities, rural areas, and tribal communities, neighborhoods have been transformed. And countless lives have been improved and saved.

Now, I know it hasn’t been easy.

Throughout my career, I’ve been privileged to work closely with law enforcement officers. I’m also the brother of a retired Port Authority police officer. So, I recognize – and I appreciate – the risks that you take, and the responsibilities that you shoulder, each and every day. I also realize that your jobs have never been more difficult – or more demanding.

But your work is more important than ever before. Your service, and your sacrifices, are making our nation not only safer, but stronger. And your partnership is allowing the Department of Justice to fulfill its most essential responsibility: protecting the American people.

When I became Attorney General, that’s precisely what I pledged to do. But I can’t keep this promise without you. That’s why, today, I’m not only here to say, “thank you,” and to celebrate all that we’ve achieved together. I’m also here to ask for your continued help and – above all – to reaffirm the Justice Department’s ongoing commitment, as well as my own personal commitment, to supporting your work.

Make no mistake: this is a defining moment – for our country, and for America’s law enforcement community. There are persistent problems that must be fixed, historic challenges that must be faced, and urgent threats that must be overcome. Our responsibilities are profound. And the course that we chart in fulfilling them will shape our nation for years to come.

Like many of you, I believe that – if we are going to succeed, if we are going to extend the tradition of excellence that has always defined our nation’s law enforcement community, and if we are going to fulfill our obligations to the people we serve – then it is time, just as it was time nearly two decades ago – when the COPS Office first opened its doors – to update policing strategies and operations.

No matter where you serve, we realize that you are struggling to fulfill your growing obligations and to overcome today’s financial constraints. This is our reality. And it demands that we carefully assess, and work to enhance, the current model for how your services are delivered. As we look toward the future – and at the goals we hope to achieve together – it’s clear that we must begin, and we must commit to, identifying ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of police operations nationwide.

But how?  How can overburdened departments – and overwhelmed officers – accomplish more with less?  How can budgets be squeezed any further?  How can we avoid job cuts? How can we ask any more of those already struggling to keep our communities safe and our nation secure?

As Director Melekian discussed this morning, there are several key ways to consider, and examples to learn from.  First and foremost, we can look at the ways many departments are successfully integrating, and utilizing, more technology in their work.  This may allow for greater information sharing – and enhance our ability to identify and target crime “hot spots.”  Second, we should examine the potential advantages of incorporating more civilian personnel and volunteers into law enforcement activities – a step that, in some departments, is saving resources and providing sworn officers with much-needed flexibility.  Third, we can look for ways to improve how non-emergency calls are responded to, a strategy that could take significant pressure off many officers, and many department budgets.  Finally, we can consider ways to regionalize certain core services, and help departments and agencies work together to share expertise, to avoid unnecessary duplication, and to maximize limited resources.

In applying each of these strategies, the costs savings are clear – and, from what we’re already seeing, the results are, too. By updated policing strategies, I am confident that we will be able to respond to today’s fiscal challenges – and meet our community safety goals and responsibilities.

Of course, like all good police work, this can’t be done in isolation. Refocusing and refining your operations must be done in partnership. And I want you to know that the COPS Office – and the entire Justice Department – is eager to do everything within our power to assist and support you.

In addition to your success, I also want to mention that we are – and we will continue to be – committed to your safety.

Since the beginning of this year, our nation has mourned the loss of 112 officers. Law enforcement fatalities are now 12 percent higher than this time last year – and gunfire-related deaths have increased by nearly 30 percent. Nationwide, line-of-duty officer deaths are approaching the highest rates we’ve seen in two decades.

This is a devastating and unacceptable trend. And each of these deaths is a tragic reminder of the threats that law enforcement officers face each day – and the fact that too many guns have fallen into the hands of those who are not legally permitted to possess them.

Let me assure you that the Justice Department is determined – and I am determined – to turn back this rising tide, to meet increased violence with renewed vigilance, and to do everything within our power – and use every tool at our disposal – to keep you and your colleagues safe.

That’s a promise – one that the Justice Department is backing up with new initiatives, like the Officer Safety Working Group, which – I’m proud to report – met for the first time two weeks ago. We’re also standing behind this commitment with significant, strategic investments – to numerous officer safety programs, including our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, which is coordinated by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, as well as the VALOR initiative that we launched last fall. Through VALOR and related efforts, we are supporting much-needed research and analysis of violent encounters, as well as officer deaths and injuries. This information will be used to provide law enforcement with the latest information, and the most effective tools and training, to respond to a range of threats – including ambush-style assaults. VALOR also includes an award of $800,000 that has been allocated to develop training and technical assistance programs – and resources like the Officer Safety Toolkit, which we released this year – to help officers learn how to anticipate and survive violent encounters.

We’ve also made significant investments to help launch the Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police, to expand the Department’s Smart Policing program, and to provide additional support for the families of law enforcement officers – especially in times of tragedy. And while I believe these investments are important steps forward, I also know that addressing the challenges you face requires more than simply moving money out the door. That’s why the Department is also focused on improving information sharing with, and among, our law enforcement partners at every level.

The cornerstone of this work has been the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange – what we all call “N-DEx.” This on-line system arms officers with critical, real-time information about suspects – and I know that you’ll be hearing more about it this week. But I want to mention that the Department is dedicated, not only to building even more support of N-DEx – as well as the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, known as “NSI” – we’re working hard to help more of you connect to it.

We’re also focused on helping you respond to emergencies more effectively. Let me assure you – we’re continuing our work on the D-Block. And I will personally continue to advocate for meaningful, affordable access to radio spectrum when and where you need it.

I’ll also keep working to ensure that the COPS funding included in the President’s proposed budget is protected. We know how much you need – and deserve – these investments. And we will not let up in our fight to make sure that you have the resources necessary to do your jobs and to fulfill your duties.

Like everyone here today, I realize we have a great deal of work before us – and more obstacles than we would like to see. But, as I look around this room, I can’t help but feel optimistic.

In examining the history of community policing in this country, it’s clear that – if we commit ourselves to it – positive change is possible. Improbable – and once-unimaginable – advancements are possible. And even the largest and most persistent obstacles can be overcome.

So, this week, as you forge and strengthen relationships, learn new skills, and share your experiences and expertise – I hope you’ll also reaffirm your commitment to leading your profession, and our nation, forward. As you do, I’m confident that your work will continue to help reduce violent crime – and to build safe, vibrant, and productive communities. And I’m certain that, just as it has for the last 17 years, the COPS Office will be at your side – helping to call forth, and bring out, the very best in American law enforcement.

Once again, I want to thank you all – for your service, your courage, and your dedication.

I look forward to what we can, and will, accomplish in the days ahead – and I’m proud to count each of you as colleagues and partners.

And, now, it is my honor to recognize the two runners-up – and, of course, the winner – of the 2011 L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award, as well as three of the key partners who worked closely with our recipients to advance their innovative community safety projects.

Those of you who knew Tony Sutin remember him as a consummate public servant; a brilliant leader; and a strong advocate for the Justice Department, its people, and our nation’s law enforcement community. As a founder of the COPS Office – and later, as principal deputy to the Associate Attorney General, and as Acting Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs – he brought passion and innovation to addressing our nation’s most pressing public safety challenges – one community at a time.

Today, in his name, we honor some of the finest law enforcement officers in America for their commitment to upholding – and carrying forward – the same traditions of civic leadership, public engagement, and innovative collaboration that defined Tony’s life and shaped his enduring legacy at the Justice Department. Each of the individuals who has achieved recognition this year represents the very best that this country’s law enforcement community has to offer. They have led the fight against violent crime, improved the way illegal activity is reported, and forged robust partnerships between police officers and members of their local communities.

I’d like to begin by recognizing our runners-up.

It’s my pleasure to welcome Captain Lori Luhnow, of the San Diego Police Department – along with Casey Gwinn, President of the National Family Justice Center Alliance – to the stage.

Captain Luhnow not only oversees the San Diego Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit – she also serves as the Director of the San Diego Family Justice Center, and sits on the board of the California Family Justice Initiative. During more than two decades with the SDPD, Lori has consistently led the Department’s community outreach efforts – and, as its Director, she has helped the San Diego Family Justice Center to achieve recognition as home to one of the leading community-based policing strategies in the country.

Throughout her career, Lori has placed a premium on listening to victims of family violence, and ensuring that their voices are heard and their best interests are protected. In just two years, she has effectively rebuilt the Center from the ground up – and increased the number of community partnerships by one hundred percent. Under her leadership – and as a result of her extraordinary efforts – the Center has not seen a single death related to domestic violence in 2010 or – to date – in 2011. Her work has not only comforted survivors and inspired new stakeholders to becoming involved – it has, quite literally, saved and transformed lives.

Captain Luhnow, on behalf of my colleagues across the Justice Department, I’d like to thank you for everything you’ve done – and for all you continue to do – to find innovative and compassionate ways to serve and protect some of the most vulnerable members of your community. Congratulations.

At this time, I’d like to recognize our additional runner-up.

Would Community Liaison Stanley Corley Cook, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department – as well as Chief Housing Officer Fred Dodson, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, please join me on the stage?

Years ago, as a Police Captain in Charlotte, North Carolina, Stanley Cook conceived of an innovative public-private partnership, which he initiated in the city’s Genesis Park. But, first, he did his homework. He identified the most common, and most pressing, public safety challenges in the area. And he reached out to the municipal government, as well as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership.

In those days, beepers represented the pinnacle of communications technology – so officers began to carry them as they patrolled the neighborhood. As a result, it became dramatically easier for residents to report suspicious activity – and, while the streets began to feel safer for those who lived there, they became more and more uncomfortable for criminals. In 1995, thanks to Stanley’s leadership, crime in the Genesis Park area decreased by nearly 75 percent. And, based on this success, today, other neighborhoods are implementing similar strategies.

Community Liaison Cook, I’d like to extend my personal thanks – and the gratitude of our nation’s entire Justice Department – for the creativity, the dedication, and the determination that you have brought to this project. You’ve set an example for law enforcement officers across the country – and paved the way for countless others to improve their own communities. Congratulations.

It is now my honor to present the winner of this year’s L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award, Lieutenant Dean Richard Isabella.

Please join me in a round of applause for Lieutenant Isabella, of the Providence Police Department – as well as Executive Director Frank Shea, of the Olneyville Housing Corporation.

Roughly six years ago, Lieutenant Isabella designed an innovative training experience to strengthen the ties between local law enforcement officers and members of the Providence community. He saw the potential for greater police effectiveness beyond a purely enforcement-centered approach. So, he worked to build and expand partnerships throughout the community – and became particularly involved with the residents, and especially the young people, living in the Olneyville housing project.

As a result of the extensive outreach he led, police calls dropped by more than 85 percent in the Olneyville area between 2002 and 2007. They remained low throughout 2010, with no evidence of crime displacement.

In March of this year, when a fire unsettled the community, Dean moved swiftly to bring new partners together for a project focused on foreclosure response. This helped to ease the effects of the economic recession on an already-distressed community – and allowed the community to address vacant and unmaintained properties.

His work to improve public safety has not only earned national recognition, it has served as a model for countless community partnerships across the country. It has also exemplified the core principles, and the lasting legacy, of our friend Tony Sutin.

Lieutenant Isabella, in recognition of your extraordinary efforts, and on behalf of our nation’s entire Department of Justice – as well as your counterparts across America’s law enforcement community – it is my distinct honor to present you with the 2011 L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award. Congratulations to you, and to this year’s runners-up – and to the community partners who helped in your success. Keep up the great work.

Updated August 18, 2015