Thank you, Chief [Eugene] Williams, for your kind words, for your warm welcome – and, of course, for your outstanding leadership in one of the finest police forces – in one of the greatest cities – in this country.
It is a pleasure to be part of this annual celebration. And I am honored to stand with you – and with NOBLE members from federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations throughout the Chicago area, including every member of the Chicago Chapter’s executive board and committee. Without question, I am in good company – and grateful to be among so many old friends and essential partners.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of you – including my dear friend Terry Hillard and Chicago’s talented new Police Chief, Garry McCarthy, as well as Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Cook County Sherriff’s Police Chief Dewayne Holbrook – and with NOBLE leaders and members across the country. In fact, this organization was established the very same year – in 1976 – that I graduated from law school, started my first job as an attorney at the Department of Justice, and witnessed – in a way I hadn’t before – the disparities and divisions that NOBLE members have worked for more than three decades to address and overcome.
Over the last 35 years, as this organization has grown from a small band of concerned, frustrated, and, ultimately, hopeful law enforcement executives, it has become an increasingly influential voice. I have seen firsthand how – by opening new doors of opportunity and encouraging diversity in police departments and law enforcement agencies nationwide – you have helped to strengthen an entire profession. And – as your mission has broadened to encompass a wide range of efforts designed to build relationships with the citizens you serve; to promote civic engagement among a new generation of officers; and to help our nation’s young people achieve their dreams and break free of the destructive cycle of guns, gangs, and drugs – you have pressed communities across the country toward progress.
Your work has helped to transform entire agencies and departments – and improved countless lives. And your service is essential in helping the Justice Department fulfill its most fundamental mission: to protect the American people – from terrorism and violent crime, from fraud and abuse, and from those who would take advantage of the most vulnerable among us.
Of course, fulfilling these responsibilities has never been more difficult. That’s true here in Chicago and in cities nationwide. But despite today’s unprecedented budget challenges, growing demands, and increasingly sophisticated threats – extraordinary progress is being made in advancing the goals and responsibilities we share.
At every level of the Justice Department, we understand that our ongoing success will depend on how well we support – and effectively partner with – law enforcement agencies, as well as advocacy groups like NOBLE. Tomorrow’s progress will depend on our ability – through initiatives like the COPS hiring program and President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act – to save and create first responder jobs; to develop information sharing platforms and strategies for keeping law enforcement officers safe; and to invest in the innovative tools that all of you need to fulfill your critical duties.
That’s why – in addition to celebrating all that you and your colleagues have achieved in the last year – I am also here to reaffirm the Justice Department’s commitment to encouraging diversity across our ranks; and to supporting you – and all of our law enforcement partners – in every way possible.
This is not merely a professional obligation. It is a personal priority.
Exactly two years ago – on October 7th, 2009 – I traveled to Chicago with Education Secretary [Arne] Duncan to meet with students, parents, and local officials still reeling from the horrific beating death of a high school student named Derrion Albert – an incident that I’m sure you remember all too well.
We came here to mourn with those affected by this unspeakable tragedy, to reiterate the Administration’s commitment to eradicating youth violence, and – most importantly – to ensure that this community’s voice was heard at the highest levels of our government.
Of course, since that day – in this city, and in countless others across the country – we have seen far too many young people fall victim to similar acts of senseless violence. But, over the same period, thanks to determined advocates and critical allies like you – and because of robust new programs and partnerships like the Justice Department’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and our Defending Childhood Initiative – we’ve also seen a renewed determination to turn back this rising tide.
This isn’t just our duty as law enforcement officials. It is our moral calling as Americans – one that NOBLE members proudly answer every day.
Especially here in Chicago, I applaud the strong commitment that NOBLE has demonstrated in rallying local leaders to take ownership of community problems; in acting not only as role models, but as mentors, for young people and aspiring officers with the desire to succeed; and by awarding scholarships to help create the opportunities that all of our children deserve. This evening, as we gather to celebrate the successes of the past year – and to pay tribute to three exemplary colleagues whose absences are acutely felt tonight – each of us must pledge to take these efforts to the next level.
Each of us must reaffirm our allegiance to the sacred principles – of respect; of uncompromising integrity; of the importance of accountability, the power of community, the value of diversity, and the need for greater opportunity – that have guided NOBLE since its inception – and that defined the lives, and distinguished the careers, of the extraordinary officers we remember tonight.
In fact, one of those leaders, Fred Rice, was among the visionaries who founded this organization, back in 1976, during an urban crime symposium in Washington, DC.
From the day he began his career in law enforcement, Fred recognized both the value and the obstacles of diversifying our nation’s police departments – and, as he rose through the ranks to become the first permanent black Superintendent of the Chicago PD, he proved that this city’s streets are safer when we strive for equity in the administration of justice, and draw strength from the talents and contributions of every member of our society.
Superintendent Rice’s passing, in January, was a tremendous loss to the organization he helped to build, the police department he served with distinction, and the communities he fought so hard to improve. And, although we miss him tonight, I am proud to say that – in the efforts that each of us has sworn to carry forward, and in the work of every officer who puts on that checkered service cap every day – his legacy remains very much alive.
So, too, do the memories of Michael Flisk and Paul Nauden – two dedicated Chicago Police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, and for whom we reserve a special place of honor here tonight.
Last November, Officer Flisk was fatally shot while collecting evidence from the scene of a burglary. And just a few months ago, in May, Officer Nauden suffered a heart attack while helping to conduct an important narcotics investigation.
Each of these men exemplified what it means to be not only an upstanding member of the community, but a remarkable public servant – and both were taken from us far too soon. So, this evening, as we pause to mark their passing, honor their contributions, and look toward the future of the department – and the community – that they served with such passion, let us do more than reflect on the empty seats at our dinner table, and the empty place in our hearts.
Let us redouble our efforts to protect the brave men and women who served alongside them, and to support their loved ones – and the families of all who wear a badge. And let us strengthen our resolve to use every tool at our disposal – and every resource we can bring to bear – to reduce and eliminate the threats our nation’s officers face.
As the brother of a retired police officer, I understand the risks that you take every day. And, all too often, I’ve seen the profound sacrifices that you and your families are asked to make.
That’s why my colleagues and I will never stop fighting for you. Through new programs and partnerships like the Officer Safety Initiative – and with significant, strategic investments in numerous officer safety programs, including our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program as well as the VALOR initiative that we launched last fall – the Justice Department is making good on our solemn promise to stand with law enforcement officers at every level.
But all of this is only the beginning. And just as NOBLE members throughout this area and across the country have invested their time and resources in the communities they serve, and in the young people they strive to protect – know that our nation’s Justice Department will continue to make significant investments in you.
In safeguarding our children, improving our communities, opening new doors of opportunity, and protecting those who put their lives on the line to keep this city safe, let me assure you that NOBLE has no stronger ally than the Department of Justice – and no closer friend than this Attorney General.
Just as surely as I will continue to rely on your dedication and contributions, I will always be grateful for your service – and will always be very proud to count you as partners.