Thank you, Mayor Kautz. It’s good to be with you and to be among so many friends. I want to thank you, as well as Mayor Villaraigosa and your Executive Director Tom Cochran, for inviting me to join you.
As my first order of business, let me congratulate you, Mayor Kautz, on your recent inauguration. Your leadership, in Burnsville and beyond, has not gone unnoticed, and I look forward to working with you in your new role as President.
Here, in the presence of my friend Robert Kennedy, Jr., I’m reminded of what his father – one of our nation’s most committed public servants and one of our finest Attorneys General – once said about living and working in the face of great challenges.
“All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they filled with opportunity.”
These words are as true today as they were half a century ago. Ours is a time of growing demands and limited resources. It is a time of uncertainty and of war. In spite of this harsh reality, America’s mayors have been charged with finding new ways to address our most persistent problems.
On top of everything you do to address those problems on a day-to-day basis, as the leaders and representatives of our largest cities, you also play an important role in the Justice Department’s work. Your guidance makes a critical difference. Our mayors and local law enforcement officials have provided the Department with valuable insights from the front lines. You’ve told us what works, what doesn’t, and what we must do to enhance public safety. You’ve also taught me over the years that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer to the dynamic and evolving problem of crime.
A year ago, I pledged that, under my leadership, the Justice Department would pursue a very specific set of goals: combating terrorism, fighting crime, enforcing our laws in a neutral and non-partisan manner, and assisting and working with our state and local partners.
I believe we’re on the right path to accomplish these goals.
First of all, we are squarely focused on our national security efforts. This will remain our top priority. And we will use every component of our power to keep the American people safe -- from our military to our courts.
Second, one of the most persistent, and most serious, problems we must address is crime. You know, as well as I do, that if the citizens we serve live in fear for their security and if we fail to keep our streets and communities safe, very little can be accomplished. That’s why, at every level of government, protecting the American people must be our top priority.
Protecting the American people involves more than terrorism and crime in our streets. Pursuing and preventing economic crimes is also especially vital in our work to protect the American people and to strengthen our communities. We need your help in this effort. That’s why when President Obama established the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, we knew it was vitally important to work with our local partners on these tough issues. Today, our top 100 metropolitan areas generate two-thirds of our jobs, and more than 40 of these areas rank among the world’s 100 largest economies. The cities you serve and manage determine the strength of our economy, and they are driving, and will insure, our national recovery efforts.
Within these individual cities, your cities, our collective future will be shaped. Your cities are where the next chapter of America’s history will be written.
When discussing criminal law, we must also take up the issues surrounding the fair administration of those laws. We can all agree that criminal laws and sentencing practices must be smart, tough, predictable, and fair, and for this reason, we’ve launched a comprehensive review of federal sentencing policy. We are, for example, looking at the disparity that now exists between the sentences for crack and powder cocaine. This is an important step in determining what sentencing reforms are appropriate to achieve our criminal sentencing goals, and I am confident it will yield a series of policies and changes that meet our objectives and will make us better partners with you.
Third, we need to continue to work together enforce our laws. As we move toward making necessary improvements, we realize that our mayors must have a seat at the discussion table. Specifically, we will be soliciting your assistance in our reinvigorated drug enforcement efforts. This work is driving an enhanced focus on Mexico and on our southwest border. To date, the Department has launched a series of efforts aimed at confronting the threats posed by Mexican cartels, by sophisticated criminal organizations, by smugglers of guns, drugs, and cash, and by those intent on illegally crossing into our country.
Some of you represent cities near this southwest border. You know, as surely as I do, that we simply cannot afford to ignore the problem of illegal immigration. Several of you have reached out to us and to our colleagues across the Administration. You’ve warned that tension is building. And you’ve described its consequences: spikes in hate crimes, an increased fear of local law enforcement, and growing concerns for public safety.
We hear you. And we are working to ensure that the federal government lives up to its responsibility to create and enforce effective immigration laws.
President Obama has signaled his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. He’s engaged the Justice Department in finding a workable solution for the millions who are in our country without lawful status. And he’s called on us, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, to provide technical assistance on issues of enforcement, administrative and judicial review, and civil rights.
As we encourage and pursue reforms, let me be clear about two points: We will fulfill our obligation to enforce current immigration laws. But we will also honor our commitment to safeguard civil rights in our border areas, as well as in our workplaces, our housing markets, and our voting booths.
I recognize that achieving the goals I’ve laid out will not be easy. Success will depend in part on how well we support our local officials and local law enforcement partners.
I want each of you to know that the Department is focused on re-establishing key partnerships with state, local, and tribal authorities. These relationships are critical, yet in recent years, many of them have suffered, been neglected, or been taken for granted. No longer. We are committed to rebuilding these bonds.
That’s why, from day one, this Administration has been focused on providing local authorities and local law enforcement with sufficient resources. And the Justice Department is an enthusiastic partner in this work.
With resources from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we’ve been able to award more than $1 billion through the office of Community Oriented Policing Services and nearly $2.5 billion under the Byrne/JAG program. Local law enforcement helped to guide the placement of these resources and have ensured that they’re being utilized to meet our most pressing needs.
As important as these investments are, I realize that addressing the challenges before us requires more than simply moving money out the door. In the work of ensuring public safety, our partnerships must go far beyond funding decisions. That is why we are actively working to open new channels of communication and collaboration.
I know that collaboration is the most powerful law enforcement tool we have. This effort begins with the brave men and women who work at the local level and best understand community needs.
Perhaps no one has communicated this more clearly, or more consistently, than Mayor Duffy of Rochester. As chair of your Criminal and Social Justice Committee, he’s worked closely with the Justice Department’s leadership. He and other committee leaders have shown us why local problems often demand national solutions. They’ve demonstrated how productive mayors and police officers can be when they choose to work together. And they’ve called on us to help you clear new paths for these partnerships.
Because of your commitment to communicating with us and advocating on behalf of those you represent, we have a better understanding of how to help advance your work. We know that our cities need sustainable, dependable, and flexible support for local law enforcement. We know we must continue to push for the resources you need. And we must also continue efforts to strengthen the federal-local bonds we’ve developed through the COPS and Byrne/JAG programs.
Supporting law enforcement operations is vital to fulfilling our missions and responsibilities. But you and I also have an important duty to protect the safety of our law enforcement officers.
This morning, I announced that the Department is making an historic, $11 million-dollar investment in our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program. These resources will help thousands of our law enforcement partners purchase protective vests -- vests that can make a critical difference to our officers in the field. In this year alone, we expect the program to provide an estimated 26,000 additional bullet-resistant vests.
Through this and other programs, we will help you fulfill our shared obligation to local law enforcement. Let me be clear: violence against law enforcement officers will not be tolerated. At every level of your Justice Department, and in every corner of our country, acts of violence against law enforcement will be pursued. They will be prosecuted. And they will be punished.
We will depend on your help in this work. Just as we will be relying on your partnership in tackling economic crime, international organized crime, youth and gang violence, and the exploitation of children. In working together, I also believe we can strengthen our commitment to supporting and utilizing science, addressing prisoner recidivism, and ensuring that our corrections facilities are secure, humane, and aimed at rehabilitation.
I realize I’ve covered a lot of ground today. And, while I can not pretend that meeting the goals I’ve outlined today will be easy, as I look around this room, I can’t help but feel optimistic.
Your service to our cities, and your dedication to our shared work, will carry us forward. Together, I believe we can write a bold new chapter in our American story. And I am confident we will realize the opportunities that Robert Kennedy once assured were part and parcel of our most difficult days.
Thank you all for joining me in this work and your service to our great nation.