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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks to the Chicago Crime Commission


Chicago, IL
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, J.R. for that kind introduction and for your leadership both in the business world and with this historic organization.  I’m told that J.R. is also a proud son of two Alabamians, both graduates of the University of Alabama.

It is an honor to be back in one of America’s greatest cities—and to be with such a distinguished group.  And so I want to thank:

  • U.S. Attorney John Lausch,
  • Head of ATF Tom Brandon,
  • Special Agent in Charge Celinez Nunez of ATF,
  • Brian McKnight of DEA,
  • Jeff Sallet of FBI, and
  • Nick Roti, Director of Chicago HIDTA.

Thank you for being here.  At the Department of Justice we are inexpressibly proud of our fabulous federal officers, but we also understand that 85 percent of law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels.  It is simple arithmetic that we cannot succeed without them.

And so I want to give a special thank you to:

  • Director Leo Schmitz of the Illinois State Police,
  • Superintendent Frank Diaz of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and
  • Arthur Bilek, former Chief of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police.

I am grateful to the Chicago Crime Commission for your 99-year tradition of promoting public safety, public integrity, and support for police.

The Chicago Crime Commission played a role in putting Al Capone in Alcatraz, in starting the FBI’s Most Wanted List, and in so many other law enforcement achievements both in Chicago and across America.

Successful businessmen like J.R. know well that we cannot have prosperity without public safety.

And there’s another successful businessman who understands that: his name is President Donald Trump.

The President is a lifelong New Yorker.  He remembers how Bill Bratton and Rudy Giuliani started a virtuous cycle of safety and prosperity that transformed the city—and, many would say, saved it.  In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in New York City.  Last year there were 292.  Burglaries are down by nearly two-thirds and robberies have been cut in half since 2000.  Last weekend there were 0 murders in New York City for the first time in 25 years.  In fact there were no shootings at all in New York City last weekend.

That’s what sustained professional law enforcement can do.

And that’s what law enforcement was working towards here in Chicago, too.

From 1994 to 2014—over 20 years—murders in Chicago were cut by 55 percent.

Who was responsible for that?  Fundamentally, it was the men and women in blue.  Some have lost sight of that fact.

But then, in 2014, there were misconduct incidents nationwide and in Chicago, anti-police activist protests and movements arose, even getting support in the White House.  Unwise decisions were made.

In 2015, the ACLU threatened a lawsuit and the city entered into a very unwise agreement with them.

Under the agreement, police officers were dramatically restricted in their use of proven, effective police procedures.  Officers, street patrolmen, had to submit a detailed report to the ACLU and a former federal judge every time they made a Terry stop. These stops are completely lawful and have been upheld by the Supreme Court for 50 years.  The police also faced disparagement and other restrictions.

The results of the agreement were catastrophic.  There’s just no other way to say it.

The ACLU agreement took effect on January 1, 2016.

Terry stops went down; arrests went down, and crime went up.

In 2016, Terry stops declined by 75 percent.  Chicago police made 24 percent fewer arrests in 2016 than they made in 2015, and about half as many arrests as they made in 2011.

If you don’t stop people, then you don’t find illegal guns or fugitives.

As a result of the agreement, that same year, 2016, Chicago saw the biggest single-year increase in murders since we’ve had reliable statistics—which is over 60 years.

765 people were killed in Chicago. Over the previous 10 years, before the ACLU agreement, the average was 454.

This could be the largest increase in murders of any major American city in history.

311 Chicagoans—friends, neighbors, moms, dads, and children—were killed in 2016 who might still be alive if the murder rate had stayed at the 10-year average.

More people were murdered in Chicago in 2016 than in New York and Los Angeles combined—even though Chicago has one-fifth of the population of those two cities.

The surge was so significant that nearly a quarter of the nationwide increase in homicide that year happened in Chicago alone.  The problem was exacerbated by your extreme sanctuary city policy that protects criminal aliens.

This did not need to happen.  In 2015 and 2016, Chicago had the same police department and the same prosecutors, but the results were dramatically different.

You don’t need a study to know why this happened. 

However, we have one.

Former federal judge Paul Cassell and Professor Richard Fowles of the University of Utah, in an important study, examined what happened, considered a number of possible causes, and found that the cause of virtually all of the rise in homicides was the ACLU agreement.  They particularly noted the reduced police activity on the streets. They call it “the ACLU effect.”

Importantly, the study found that 94 percent of the homicide victims were either African-American or Latino.  Reducing police patrols and interactions on our streets reduces public safety and places minorities particularly at increased risk.

It is clear that this agreement was a colossal mistake—an error of monumental proportions.  Decades of hard-earned progress were tossed away.  Police were demoralized.  All of America needs to understand this lesson.  Good, lawful, smart policing works.  If you let Antifa and the ACLU set police policy, crime will go up.  If you listen to police professionals, crime will go down.

Chicago is a powerful part of America’s productivity.  It is indeed a city that works.  In so many ways, Chicago has made progress in recent years.  Its prosperity cannot be endangered by violent crime.

President Trump has talked to me about this city and he is deeply concerned.  He has told me about Chicagoans pleading with him to send in help, even the military.  This is not academic for him.  He invested in New York when there was much uncertainty.  He saw what Giuliani accomplished.

I have followed his order and increased the number of federal prosecutors.

Last year, I sent three more prosecutors to this city.  Earlier this year, on the 500th day of the Trump administration, I sent four more violent crime prosecutors.  And last week—following President Trump’s order—I sent five more.  I have sent more violent crime prosecutors to Chicago than any other city in America.

Our outstanding U.S. Attorney, John Lausch, is putting these prosecutors to work, forming a “Gun Crimes Prosecution Team” that will focus on investigating and prosecuting gun cases from the most violent neighborhoods—a proven crime fighting technique.

There are now more ATF agents in Chicago than in any city in America.

I know that improvement was made in 2017, with about 100 fewer homicides.  I know Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson—I respect him.  He is working hard.

The bravery of Chicago Police is not in question.  Their love for this city is not in question.  What is in question, however, is the support and the political courage of their elected officials.

And there is a long climb ahead of us.  Murders in 2017 remained 35 percent higher than 2015.

Last week, following the order from President Trump, I reassigned five ATF agents here to serve as violent crime coordinators to make sure that we prosecute the most violent offenders.

These are significant actions.  We are doing all that we can.

But now there’s talk of a consent decree in federal court.

The proponents say the police officers have had a long period of not meeting professional standards and they need more training and more control and discipline.  They say they need a federal judge to take it over in order for it to be done properly and a special “monitor” to supervise it all.  This is a seductive idea.  Perhaps they are thinking, “We can get it off our plate and shift the problem to a federal judge.”

Honorable, distinguished citizens of this city: you and I both want what is best for this city, so we need to talk about the real problem honestly and directly.

Chicago police are not the problem—Chicago police are the solution.

A consent decree is an extraordinary remedy and it should be considered only with great caution and rare circumstances.  Because once a consent decree is entered as a court order, it can only be changed by another court order in the circumstances that the law and the decree permit.

The proposed decree is 226 pages long.  It would, in effect, rewrite the entire rulebook for Chicago police.

Chicago has already made significant changes to its police department in recent years, most notably to officer training.  And more is already planned.  It is not resisting improvement.  It seeks improvement.

Micromanaging the CPD through a federal court isn’t just unjustified—it is an insult.  We do not need to treat Chicago’s officers like some sort of rogue police department because of the actions of a few.  As leaders, we must hammer the wrongdoers, as was done by a jury a few days ago, but affirm and support the vast majority who do their duty faithfully and properly.

To make matters worse, the metrics used in the proposed consent decree are often vague or subjective.

The decree uses terms like “adequate funding,” and “an adequate number of qualified staff.” 

It would require that language used in policies, procedures, forms, databases, and training be “appropriate” and “respectful.”

How are Chicago officers or the Department supposed to know whether they’ve met the requirements of this decree?  The decree doesn’t tell us.  Importantly, it has no end date.

Indeed, these decrees tend to drag on for decades and modifying them tends to be extremely difficult—and expensive.

The proposed decree would hand over a significant portion of the Superintendent’s job to an unaccountable “Monitor,” including large parts of the budgeting process.

The Monitor can be paid up to $2.85 million per year—more than ten times both the Superintendent’s salary and the Mayor’s salary, and 59 times the starting salary for CPD officers.  The entire process will require large direct expenditures and will redirect substantial resources to satisfy the imposed rules and the monitor, and less to crime fighting.

Think about how many additional officers could be hired or how much training carried out for the annual cost of the monitor.  The money spent to hire teams of lawyers and monitors could be better used to protect its residents.

Importantly, this proposed decree would rob the people of Chicago of their votes.  It would make policing unaccountable to the people.

It is important in this Republic that governmental structures operate under the ultimate control of the American people.  And in particular the people of Chicago have set up a framework that creates a Police Superintendent whose job is to “administer the affairs” of the CPD.  This clearly fixed responsibility would be seriously undermined by such an agreement.

Enacting the consent decree would thus be anti-democratic in nature.  And, it must be noted that both sides of the negotiations for this essentially collusive decree are lame duck politicians not running for re-election.

The proposed decree would transfer control to two retiring politicians and a federal judge, none of whom are accountable to the people who provide the money. 

That would be a bad idea even if it were a good agreement.  But it’s not a good agreement.

The facts on the ground are going to change.  They always do.  Policies have to adapt to changing situations.

But unlike policies set by the city’s Police Superintendent, a consent decree would make it much more difficult for the city to adapt to changing circumstances.

If approved, the judicial decree will deprive the next mayor, the city council, and the Superintendent of the lawful authority that they ought to have.  Importantly, it confuses responsibility and authority.

These are important issues.

This debate is largely about power.  It’s about who should run the police department: the professionals or the activists?  The people of Chicago or an unelected judge and a couple of soon-to-be-retired politicians?  Will they continue to control the Department from their political graves?

Chicago must get this right.  It cannot accept an image as a violent, crime-ridden city.  Chicago cannot afford to capitulate to criminals, to grovel in the face of extremists, and let its potential slip away.

And so I urge this great city to seriously consider the road it’s about to go down.  The surge in violence that has occurred here can be –and must be – reversed.  Look at New York in the 1990s.  Look at where you were in 2014. You have one asset to achieve that goal—and it is your police department. 

You must give it your support, morally and financially.  They place their lives at risk every day for you.  They need to be enthusiastic about their work. They need to know they are respected. They need to know that the city and the people understand the challenges they face.  They need to know that they are supported.

Again, the police are not the problem.  The criminals are the problem.

When a good leader takes over a business, a military unit, or a football team that is struggling, the leader seeks to inspire the troops—not demean them.

In a superficial editorial a few days ago, the New York Times opined that the recent murder conviction of a CPD officer proved that a consent decree was justified.  To the contrary, it proved that a police officer in Chicago who commits a crime will be prosecuted and jailed.  Our Civil Rights Division and this city stand firmly for that principle.

And so I urge the city of Chicago to do the things that smart, determined cities have proven to work to reduce crime.  That means developing a respected, supported, trained, and motivated police department.  This is the answer to Chicago’s crime problem.  We know it can be done.  In that effort you will have our full support.

Updated October 19, 2018