Thank you, Mike [Carroll]. It is a pleasure to be with you and – once again – to be a part of this annual gathering. I want to thank you – and the IACP’s leadership team, Board of Directors, members, and many supporters – for inviting and welcoming me back.
Without question, I am in good company today. It is an honor to join with some of the most active and effective police chiefs in the country, as well as law enforcement innovators from around the world. And it is a special privilege to share the stage with so many leaders I have long admired and, now, rely on each day. In particular, I want to join you in welcoming General [Oscar] Naranjo – an indispensible partner in combating drug trafficking and violent crime, and an example for police officers across Columbia and far beyond. Thank you for being with us, General, and for helping us build on the traditions of service and progress – and the unparalleled record of achievement – that the IACP has established over the last century.
Today, we strengthen these traditions. And, together, we breathe new life into the IACP’s founding principles – that the art and science of police work cannot be advanced in isolation; that local public safety challenges often demand large-scale solutions and engagement; and that a commitment to cooperation – and to the highest standards of professional conduct – is the most essential thread of the thin blue line.
As our nation’s Attorney General, as a prosecutor and former judge, as a lifelong admirer of law enforcement and the brother of a retired Port Authority officer, I am proud to support your critical work. And, this morning, I am eager to discuss the goals that we share and the investments that we must make to bring these policing strategies and capabilities to the next level.
Last year, when I joined you all in Denver, I delivered a message on behalf of the administration and my colleagues at the Department of Justice. To each of you – and to all of our law enforcement partners – I pledged that, “We got your back.”
Today, I’ve traveled to Orlando to discuss some of the ways we are working to make good on this promise – and to reaffirm my commitment to ensuring your success and your safety.
In the year since we last gathered, much progress has been made. Recent investments in technology and research are paying off, allowing you to work more quickly, effectively, and collaboratively – and to accomplish more with less. Through our support of state and local Fusion Centers and Joint Terrorism Task Forces, new pathways for communication have been cleared. And with growing participation in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, and the use of cutting-edge information exchange systems like N-DEx, our ability to connect the dots has never been greater.
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. Countless lives have been improved and saved. And, despite unprecedented threats and historic budget constraints, so many of your precincts and departments are not simply surviving. They are thriving.
Of course, I realize that this progress has not come easily. It is the product of your leadership; of tireless work and tough decisions. And it is the direct result of great – and, all too often, ultimate – sacrifice.
Just weeks after we left last year’s conference, many of you came together again – under different and devastating circumstances. Some of you traveled hundreds of miles to get to Lakewood, Washington – where, on November 29th, four police officers sat together in a coffee shop, preparing for a work day they would not live to see. At 8:30 that morning, they were ambushed by a gunman and killed in cold blood – targeted, and murdered, simply because of the uniforms they wore and the public service they provided.
These victims – Officers Griswold, Owens, Renninger, and Richards – were members of Lakewood’s police department. But they were also part of something much larger – a law enforcement community that spans borders and jurisdictions; a law enforcement family bound by common cause and rare courage.
More than 20,000 people attended a memorial service in their honor. Police cruisers from across the country lined up in a processional that stretched for miles. It was a moving display of support. But, unfortunately, the violence that preceded and provoked it was not an isolated incident.
Since last October, 163 officers have been killed in the line of duty nationwide – with more than a third of them killed by gunfire.
These losses – of mothers and fathers, spouses and siblings, children and colleagues – represent an alarming increase in police officer fatalities. After reaching a 50-year low in 2009, the number of U.S. law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty has surged.
Together, we have mourned the loss of heroes like Captain Chad Reed – of the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office here in Florida – who was killed during a gunfight with a murder suspect; and Officer Thomas Wortham, a second-generation Chicago cop, who was shot and killed during a robbery attempt outside his parents’ house.
Officer Wortham’s mother, Carolyn, spoke at his funeral. Before a packed church, she said that, “It's OK to be sad…[and] it's OK to grieve. “But,” she reminded us all, “let's not be angry. Because anger saps your energy. And we have much to do.”
Without question, the work before us is great. And it couldn’t be more urgent. If current trends continue, 2010 could end as one of the deadliest years for law enforcement in more than two decades.
The Justice Department is committed – I am committed – to turning back this rising tide; to meeting increased violence with renewed vigilance; and to doing everything within our power – and using every tool at our disposal – to keep you and your colleagues safe.
Those who commit acts of violence against law enforcement will be pursued. They will be prosecuted. And they will be punished in the harshest way we can. This is my pledge to you and to those who work for you.
We are committed to officer safety. And we’re backing up this commitment with significant, strategic investments.
In Fiscal Year 2010, the Department provided more than $40 million to officer safety programs. The lion’s share of this investment was allocated to our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, and is allowing for the purchase of nearly 50,000 protective vests. To better ensure officer safety, starting in Fiscal Year 2011, we will begin requiring agencies that receive this funding to certify that they have a written "mandatory wear" policy in effect for uniformed patrol officers.
But our officer safety efforts don’t stop there. In fact, today, I’m pleased to announce the launch of a new Department initiative – called VALOR – that will enhance our work to prevent violence against law enforcement officers and reduce line of duty injuries and losses.
Through VALOR and related efforts, the Department will support much-needed research and analysis of violent encounters, and officer deaths and injuries. And we’ll use this information to provide law enforcement with the latest information, and most effective tools and training, to respond to a range of threats – including ambush-style assaults. VALOR also includes an award of $800,000, made earlier this year, to develop training and technical assistance programs to help officers learn how to anticipate and survive violent encounters.
We are also awarding nearly half-a-million dollars to the IACP to help launch the Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police. This Center will serve as a clearinghouse for information on emerging trends and best practices in reducing officer injuries.
Beyond VALOR, we are expanding the Department’s Smart Policing program – a true success story in fighting crime with innovative and evidence-based strategies – to six new sites. This brings the total number of demonstration sites to 16. Each of these communities works with a research partner to analyze data, devise crime-fighting strategies, and measure progress. I have every expectation that our new grantees – in Cincinnati, Ohio; Joliet, Illinois; Lowell, Massachusetts; Indio, and San Diego, California; and Baltimore, Maryland – will build on the Department’s ongoing efforts to become, not just tough, but smarter on crime.
In addition to supporting your work, the Justice Department is also committed to supporting your families – especially in times of tragedy. That’s why, this year, the Department awarded more than $2 million to Concerns of Police Survivors. For nearly three decades, C.O.P.S. has been there for law enforcement, helping thousands of families who’ve lost loved ones in the line of duty to heal and to rebuild their lives. From the very beginning – since she founded C.O.P.S. in 1984 – this work has been led by Suzie Sawyer. And I’m glad that Suzie is here with us today. So many of us have been privileged to work with her over the years. Not only has she grown C.O.P.S. from a small-town organization into a nationwide network of dedicated volunteers, she’s also been instrumental in coordinating National Police Week activities each May. Earlier this year, Suzie announced her retirement. And, today, I know I speak for everyone here in saying "thank you" to Suzie – for your leadership, your service, and your dedication to law enforcement. On behalf of the entire Department of Justice, it’s an honor to support your work.
Although I believe these new investments – to C.O.P.S., to our Smart Policing program, and to the VALOR initiative – are an important step 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.
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. In addition to developing this national resource, we’re providing support – including nearly $2 million in fiscal year 2010 funding – to help more of you connect to it. N-DEx is a prime example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement works together across levels – and when law enforcement executives make information sharing a priority. We will continue to encourage the use of N-DEx, as well as greater participation in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, known as “NSI,” which we administer in partnership and coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, as well as state and local law enforcement.
In launching NSI last year, we were guided by three key principles: partnerships, prevention, and the protection of privacy and civil liberties. By fostering increased partnership among law enforcement agencies, as well as private-sector entities, NSI is allowing officers to connect suspicious, but seemingly disparate, pieces of information. The result? Potential terror attacks are being identified – and prevented. And NSI’s strong privacy and civil rights protections are reinforcing the fact that effective security efforts need not compromise our most essential values.
But NSI’s continued success depends on your engagement. And I urge you to continue to make suspicious activity reporting a priority, and a common practice, in the departments you lead.
In addition to helping law enforcement collaborate and connect information more easily, we’re also working to help you respond to emergencies more effectively. All of us have seen – most clearly on September 11th and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – that, in times of crisis, officers and first responders must be able to communicate quickly and across jurisdictions.
Over the last year, the Department of Justice has taken an active role to help ensure that the communication needs of state, local, and tribal law enforcement are met.
We’ve facilitated a series of discussions concerning the public safety broadband network, including the future of the D-Block. And, in partnership with the White House and the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce, we’re continuing to bring together leaders from law enforcement, the broader public safety community, and industry, to determine a path forward.
This is a Cabinet-level priority. It is a Justice Department priority. And I will continue to advocate for meaningful, affordable access to radio spectrum when and where you need it. This continues to be a personal priority for me.
Now, I realize that I’ve covered a lot of ground today. And while I have great hope for what can be achieved through these new initiatives and investments, I do not pretend that implementing the solutions we need – and securing the protections and capabilities that you deserve – will be quick or easy work. But I want you all to know that, at every level of the Justice Department, not only do we have your back, we are committed to your future and – above all – to your safety.
Let’s make certain that the tragedies of the past year bring us closer to marking a new era of solidarity – a new beginning.
We are in this together. And the simple truth is that the goals I’ve set, and the responsibilities I’ve accepted, cannot be met without your help. I am grateful for your partnerships. I am counting on your leadership. And, in the critical days ahead, I look forward to all that we will accomplish.