Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you Clarence [Cox], for that introduction, and for your hard work to protect the children in Clayton County public schools.
I want to thank Perry Bryant as well for hosting us today, along with Dwayne Crawford for the invitation. And thank you Perry as well for your input on our Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime. This is a top priority for the Department. I received the recommendations of the task force last week and am very pleased with what I’ve seen so far.
NOBLE is celebrating its 41st year this year. September 1976. That’s about the same time I got started as a federal prosecutor down in Alabama. So I know—41 years is a long time ago! You have nearly 60 chapters and represent over 3,000 members now. But NOBLE started as a symposium to discuss issues like the high crime rate in urban communities, improving community relationships with police, and the hiring and promotion of black police officers. These were important issues 41 years ago. And they are critically important and relevant issues today. I am honored to speak to you today. Because the work you do here at NOBLE is an inspiration every day.
It is an honor to be with you, and to be with hundreds of men and women who dedicate their lives, each and every day, every shift, at great personal peril to keep our communities safe.
I was a federal prosecutor for 14 years, and during that time, I was blessed to partner every day with federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to protect the rights of all individuals. We might have been a small U.S. Attorney’s office in Mobile, Alabama, but we took tons of drugs off our streets, dismantled domestic and international fraud schemes, and prosecuted civil rights offenders to the fullest extent possible. There is nothing I am more proud of than what we accomplished in our district.
You all have that same kind of impact, and I can take satisfaction in your noble work.
It is a facet of all modern societies that you cannot have safety, comfort, and a thriving community without an effective police department. In addition, it is of the utmost importance that the police department reflect the society it is entrusted with protecting. You here at NOBLE have been key to ensuring that this principle is not taken for granted or ignored. Unfortunately, your work—in many cases—is becoming even more difficult and dangerous.
That’s because we are fighting a multi-front battle in our communities against violent crime, murder, and drug overdoses—all of which are on the rise.
After decreasing for nearly 20 years, violent crime is making a comeback across America. The murder rate has surged nearly 11 percent nationwide in just one year – the largest increase since 1968. Per capita homicide rates are up in 27 of our 35 largest cities. As described by the media, Baltimore and Chicago have turned into killing fields.
Law enforcement officers like you are on the front lines. You see these deaths up close; you don’t have the luxury of looking away, changing the channel, or pretending the problem doesn’t exist. As anyone here knows, too often you not only don’t get the credit you deserve, but are now in harm’s way more than ever.
In fact, violence against police is on the rise across this country. Last year, 66 law enforcement officers were murdered in the line of duty – an increase of 61 percent compared to 2015. And preliminary data shows that officer deaths for the first six months of the year are up another 18 percent.
This includes the tragic shooting of Officer Miosotis Familia, a mother of 3, and a 12 year NYPD veteran, who was assassinated earlier this month in New York City simply because she was on patrol and doing her job. She was sitting in her car when the cowardly assassin walked up and shot her at close range.
And we know violence against police has more than just an immediate effect. It is a catastrophe if more people decide not to make a career in law enforcement. More than ever, we need the best of the best joining the force.
At Officer Familia’s funeral, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said it well: “cops are regular people who believe in the possibility of making this a safer world. That’s why we run toward danger, when others run away.”
You deserve the support and respect of every American, and I’m here today on behalf of President Trump and the Department of Justice to say thank you. I am proud to stand with you. The Department of Justice is proud to stand with you. This President is proud to stand with you. We have your back.
And this is important because we can all agree that you’re safer on your rounds when everyone respects law enforcement. The communities you serve are safer too.
Just a few weeks ago, Gallup released their annual poll, which showed that overall confidence in the police has risen to 57 percent this year. That is great news and a testament to the work you do every day.
But we also know that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Most of the country continues to hold police in high regard, but in that same poll, only 30 percent of African-Americans say that they have confidence in police. In the last three years, that number has dropped by five points. That means African-Americans have the least trust in police of any group in the United States.
We all know the cases of the last several years where, in confrontations with police, lives have been cut short. Just as I am committed to defending law enforcement who use deadly force while lawfully engaged in their work, I will also hold any officer responsible breaking the law. You and I know that all it takes is one bad officer to destroy the reputations of so many who work day in and day out to build relationships in these communities and serve with honor and distinction.
We cannot let mayors and city councils run down police in communities that are suffering only to see crime spike in the very neighborhoods that need proactive, community policing the most. That helps no one. That protects no one.
I just returned from El Salvador last week—a country ravaged by transnational gangs like MS-13 and where the murder rate is nearly 20 times higher. That is what a country can look like when the rule of law breaks down. And that is what you represent every day on your beat—the rule of law. So we need you and we need to support you.
President Trump is serious about supporting our state and local law enforcement. That is why he sent my Department three executive orders. One directs us to be supportive of law enforcement. A second declared that our mission is to “reduce crime” in America. And the third requires us to dismantle transnational criminal organizations. These are our goals and we are getting after them.
Carrying out the President’s first executive order—to support law enforcement—helps us carry out the second—reducing crime. The Department has been working at your side to crack down on gun crimes and drugs. I know that Perry has been a strong advocate for taking and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, and I agree with him that this will reduce violent crime overall. That’s why, in March, I issued a memo telling our prosecutors to prioritize criminals with guns, and since then we’ve seen a 23 percent increase in the number of federal gun prosecutions.
Everyone here knows that drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't, and don't, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun. If we want to reduce violent crime and homicides, then we must take on the epidemic of drug abuse in this country. We have to send a clear message that drugs destroy lives.
This mission is important because it’s not our privileged communities that suffer the most from crime and violence. Nothing is more damaging to a struggling community than high crime rates.
The first and most important job of this government—and any government—is to protect the safety and the rights of its citizens; the first civil right is that to be alive. If we fail at this task, then every other government initiative loses its importance. Schools are less effective, fewer businesses can succeed, grocery stores disappear, and home values plummet. Suddenly, a retired couple who worked their whole lives to buy their home finds themselves trapped in a failing community, unable to pass along that nest egg to their children and threatened daily by the increasing violence around them.
This is not right. Regardless of wealth or race, every American has the right to demand a safe neighborhood. Every American deserves to live without the constant fear of violence spilling over into their daily lives.
And we need to do more. We know that our mission depends on you. 85 percent of all law officers are state, local, and tribal. You are America’s first line of defense.
NOBLE’s motto is “Justice by Action.” Justice requires courageous men and women to stand up and do the right thing each and every day. Thank you all for answering that call and for choosing to do this honorable work. You, more than perhaps any other law enforcement organization, represent crucial ambassadors to some of the communities that trust law enforcement the least. Thank you for your trust and professionalism.
We have your back and you have our thanks.