Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Michael for that introduction, and thank you for your hard work in San Bernardino.
I also want to thank Mike Freeman for hosting us today, and I want to congratulate you on being elected the next president of the NDAA. You’ve got big shoes to fill, Mike. I understand that we’ll be passing the gavel to you in just a few minutes. NDAA is indeed the ‘Voice of America’s Prosecutors.’
It is essential that you work together for common aims and work to improve your skills, understanding and performance. This conference’s focus on how to reduce violence and the exploitation of women is just the kind of professional training that is essential.
It is an honor to be with you, and to be with 250 prosecutors who have dedicated their lives to enforcing our laws and to keeping our communities safe.
I was a prosecutor for 14 years, and there is nothing I am more proud of than that. We were a small U.S. Attorney’s office in Mobile, but we felt we did a lot of good.
We took on corruption; we broke up national and international fraud schemes, and we took tons of drugs off our streets. I know that you all are having that same kind of impact and I thank you for that.
As a prosecutor, you have the honor of representing your community in court. I will never forget the feeling of going before a judge and saying, “the United States is ready.” I will never get over that feeling of knowing that I represented the greatest country in the history of the world. I’m sure you feel the same way.
Unfortunately, our jobs are becoming even more difficult.
We have a multi-front battle in front of us right now: an increase in violent crime, a rise in vicious gangs, an opioid epidemic, threats from terrorism, and human traffickers, combined with a culture in which family and discipline seems to be eroding further.
From the early 1990s until just a few years ago, the crime rate steadily came down across the country.
But violent crime is rising. The murder rate, for example, 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.
That includes right here in a great city like Minneapolis. According to Minneapolis police, violent crime has increased six years in a row. Through the first half of this year, the preliminary data shows that violent crime is up 17 percent and homicides are up over 40 percent from this time last year.
These numbers are deeply troubling—and especially since they represent a sharp reversal of decades of progress. My best judgment is that this rise is not an aberration or a blip. We must take these developments seriously and consider carefully what can be done about them.
Yielding to the trend is not an option for America and certainly not to us.
As prosecutors, you know the people behind these stories all too well. Just last week, a man in the North Side of St. Paul was holding his infant daughter when he heard gunshots outside. One bullet went through his window and narrowly missed his 10-year old son. Reports of gunfire are up 62 percent in St. Paul through the first half of this year.
This past weekend in Chicago, there were 56 people shot. 56. In one, police say a community activist was fatally shot less than a block from the offices of his nonprofit that worked to fight violence in the neighborhood. These tragedies continue to pile up and we must put an end to it.
Let me state what you already understand: 85 percent of all law officers are state, local, and tribal. Likewise, there are many more district attorneys than federal prosecutors. While the Department of Justice and federal officers play a crucial public safety role, the backbone of the system is you and your partners.
President Trump understands this. He sent my Department three executive orders. One directs us to be supportive of local law enforcement. A second declared that our mission is to “reduce crime” in America. The third directed us to dismantle transnational criminal organizations. These are our goals and we are getting after them.
Real improvements in public safety can only come from partnerships. I believe that state, local, and federal relations are strong now, and I want to see them get better.
Helping you do your jobs, helping the police get better, and celebrating the noble, honorable, essential and challenging work you do will always be a top priority of mine.
We will aggressively prosecute federal or state officers who violate the civil rights of our citizens. But we will take care to never demean or offer unwarranted criticism of the honorable, brave, and professional law enforcement officers who protect us every day.
We must encourage proven police techniques like community-based, proactive policing and “broken windows”—policies that are lawful and proven to work.
Better training, better morale, professional excellence are goals of yours. My goal is to help you be effective and never to make your work more difficult. I am asking our U.S. Attorneys to be leaders in this approach. In the long run, there is nothing we can do that is more impactful.
a Ronald Reagan U.S. Attorney, there was no more important relationship for me than with my Democrat D.A. Chris Galanos was a great partner.
A simple, quick phone call could fix problems and allow us to make significant decisions. We trusted each other because we shared the same goals. I wish that kind of relationship for all of you. If there is a problem, you can call me personally. Stopping the rise in crime and reversing it, we all know, will not be easy but with unity and determination, smart policies, efficiencies and enthusiasm, we can do it. We will do it.
As District Attorneys, you know the important role of the Department of Justice and you are probably wondering what changes and priorities you will see from Washington and your U.S. Attorneys.
First, as I have stated, we want to build even closer partnerships with you in order to build a unified, tough, and effective focus on crime reduction. But there are other priorities and initiatives we will pursue.
I want to see a substantial increase in gun crime prosecutions. I believe, as we partner together and hammer criminals who carry firearms during crimes or criminals that possess firearms after being convicted of a felony, the effect will be to reduce violent crime.
Next, the DEA reports that 80 percent of heroin addicts started with abuse of prescription drugs.
As you know, more than 50,000 died of drug overdoses in 2015. Preliminary numbers indicate 2016 may hit 60,000. We have never seen numbers like this. This nation is prescribing and consuming far too many painkillers. This must end.
Last week, we announced the indictments of over 400 defendants as part of the annual Health Care Fraud Take Down. 120 of those involved opioid-related drug fraud and nearly 50 were doctors. Some of these frauds involved massive amounts of drugs.
But I’m convinced this is a winnable war. We can significantly reduce this abuse, which includes the big drug companies as well.
DEA is making these cases a priority. They can make visits to physician and pharmacies and do checks on those who prescribe or sell these drugs.
They are reviewing and identifying physician and pharmacy outliers that can help you narrow the search for crooks.
I would urge you to examine every case that involves an arrest of an individual illegally possessing prescription drugs. Make a condition of any plea bargain that the defendant tell where he or she got the drugs. Together, let’s get after these bad actors.
We are also placing greater emphasis on dismantling gangs—especially the most violent like MS-13.
We can never cede a single neighborhood or a block or a street corner to criminal gangs. Much of the nation’s rising murder rate is a result of violent gang activity. Minneapolis has seen an increase in murders just this year as I mentioned previously. Police officers recently noted that a “relatively small group of offenders” is responsible for the bloodshed and that “at least half of the city’s homicides were gang related.”
While criminal gangs have been growing and are numerous, their numbers are finite. If we target them aggressively, we can reduce homicides and make our communities safer.
In addition, we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.
I recently sent out my directive on charging and sentencing. It is sound law and policy. Assistant U.S. Attorneys will simply be expected to charge the most serious readily provable offense. If that would be unjust, prosecutors can seek a waiver approval from a designated supervisor without Washington.
In short, we have ended the policies that handcuffed our federal prosecutors.
Another key issue is to end the lawlessness in our immigration system. The people of this country have been pleading with their leaders for decades for a lawful system of immigration that serves our national interest and in which we can take pride.
Our goal is not to reduce illegal immigration but to end illegal immigration. We are already seeing positive results with illegal border crossings in March hitting the lowest monthly figure in 17 years.
In just 5 states over 3 days ICE arrested 86 nationals. 62 had criminal convictions and 23 had been previously deported. 7 were fugitives with outstanding final orders of removal. One U.S. Attorney in an average non border state, told me they had presented 300 illegal reentry cases last year.
Operation Streamline, the addition of 50 immigration judges, more AUSAs in key districts, more border patrol and ICE officers are already turning the tide and just beginning. With a major decline in illegal entry attempts, more personnel, and the wall, we have a real opportunity to fix this problem.
Your conference this week is focused on an important subject: combating violence against women. The Department of Justice stands with you, and we will support you in this mission.
Benjamin Hawk is an experienced DOJ attorney prosecuting human trafficking, complex sex trafficking, and hate crimes. We are proud that he is participating in this conference.
And we are proud of the work that our Office of Violence Against Women does. They provides grants to fund the hiring of more than 300 prosecutors around the country every year.
That investment has yielded results, too. For example, in Michigan, prosecutors funded through this grant have reopened cold cases and brought charges against several alleged serial rapists.
As prosecutors, we have a difficult job, but our efforts at the federal, state, and local levels have a real impact. With every conviction we secure, we make our communities safer.
Let me close by thanking all of you once again for choosing to do this noble work. Each of you is a bright light of hope and justice. Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
Keep up the good work, have a productive training session, and thanks for having me here today.