Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Assistant Attorney General [Karol] Mason, for that kind introduction and for your outstanding leadership of the Office of Justice Programs. I also want to thank Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General [Beth] McGarry and Bureau of Justice Assistance Deputy Director [Kristin] Mahoney for their tireless work overseeing the Violence Reduction Network. I want to thank U.S. Attorney [Christopher] Thyer of the Eastern District of Arkansas for his dedicated work with two VRN member cities and for hosting this important summit. And I want to thank the many U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Marshals and leaders from the ATF, FBI and DEA who are with us. Please know how grateful I am for your work – and how proud I am of your achievements. Finally, I want to recognize the many community partners from around the country who have traveled to be here today. It is leaders like you – police chiefs and sheriffs, state and county prosecutors – who make the VRN possible in the first place and I want to applaud your commitment to building stronger and safer communities where every person can thrive and flourish.
As Attorney General, I share that commitment, which is why I am here today. Because nothing threatens the vibrancy of our communities and the well-being of our people as severely as violence. Violent crime endangers lives, destroys families and paralyzes neighborhoods. It stifles opportunity and spreads fear. It deters investment and discourages education. And it undermines America’s founding promises of life, liberty and opportunity for all. In some ways, violence affects all of us – and so all of us have a responsibility to end it.
As part of that responsibility, the Department of Justice carefully tracks violent crime throughout the United States. Earlier this morning, the FBI released its Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data for 2015. The report shows that there was an overall increase in violent crime last year, making clear what each of us already knows: that we still have so much work to do. But the report also reminds us of the progress that we are making. It shows that in many communities, crime has remained stable or even decreased from the historic lows reported in 2014. And it is important to remember that while crime did increase overall last year, 2015 still represented the third-lowest year for violent crime in the past two decades.
Of course, that does not mean we can be complacent. The residents of communities where violence remains a fact of daily life care little whether overall crime rates are up and down. And in the raft of data and analysis that can so often define our work, we must never forget that all of our numbers reflect the lives of real people. Violent crime tears at the fabric of our common life – and so any increase in violent crime is of the deepest concern to me as Attorney General and to the entire Department of Justice. That is why we put so much time, effort and funding into helping our state and local partners build their capacity to prevent, respond to and ultimately, reduce violent crime. Through conversations with our state and local law partners, we know that there is no single cause of violence and solutions will vary from one community to another. We understand that the best ideas for combatting violence will come from the local level – from the law enforcement officers and community leaders who know their neighborhoods best. And we want to do everything we can to help you in that mission by offering research and strategic planning; by supporting your work through grant funding, training and technical assistance; and by implementing programs that focus on the collateral effects of violence, ensuring a comprehensive response to this difficult challenge.
One of the ways we are advancing that work is through the Violence Reduction Network, which was the brainchild of our Office of Justice Programs. A few years ago, we decided that we needed to do more to help cities grappling with persistent violent crime. We saw an untapped opportunity to help you create site-specific plans tailored to local challenges. And we saw a chance to create a reservoir of best practices, experience-based lessons and data-driven strategies for other cities to draw upon.
Since launching the VRN with five cities in 2014, we have witnessed extraordinary activity and unprecedented collaboration throughout the network. In Camden, New Jersey for example, the ATF provided critical equipment and training to the Camden County Police Department, reducing the department’s ballistic evidence processing time from up to a week to just eight hours. In Oakland, California the police department created space at its headquarters for on-site FBI agents, helping the department’s homicide clearance rate rise from 57 percent to 74 percent in a year. And right here in Little Rock, assistance provided by the ATF has helped clear a backlog of more than 1,300 firearms cases, while the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office is working closely with U.S. Attorney Thyer and his team to handle more gun cases and increase federal firearms indictments, getting dangerous weapons off the streets.
These are just a few of the outstanding partnerships created as a result of the VRN and in the days ahead, we will build upon them in three crucial ways. First, we want to keep inviting other cities to join the network – and today, I am pleased to welcome Jackson, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee as new partners. I applaud the leaders of both cities for their commitment and I am excited to have them join this innovative network. Second, we want to keep working with cities once they have completed the full two-year VRN program. Our five original sites are nearing the end of that timeframe and for the last few months, they have been working tirelessly to institutionalize the strategies they have developed under the VRN. The Justice Department is committed to helping them sustain their progress through continued engagement, training and technical assistance. And finally, we want to make sure that what we’ve learned through this endeavor is available not only to the 15 VRN cities, but to municipalities across the country. That’s why our Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center will invest $1.7 million next year to make elements of VRN assistance available to 10 additional cities. And it’s why we are launching a new online Violence Reduction Clearinghouse that will give the public the latest and best information about what works in reducing and preventing violence.
Of course, even as we strive to support local leaders and law enforcement officials in their work to protect their communities, we are mindful that effective public safety requires more than arrests and prosecutions. It also requires winning – and keeping – the trust and confidence of the citizens we serve. Today, I am proud to announce two grants designed to help bolster that confidence and foster that trust. First, through our Bureau of Justice Assistance, we will be giving over $20 million to more than a hundred law enforcement agencies, including three VRN participants, to establish or enhance their use of body-worn cameras. And I am also pleased to announce that we are providing over $33 million to 28 jurisdictions – including two VRN partners – to help them inventory, test and track backlogged sexual assault kits. Together, these grants will help law enforcement agencies promote transparency, ensure accountability and deliver long-delayed justice, clearing the way for the closer cooperation between residents and officers that is so vital to public safety.
That cooperation is the hallmark of the Violence Reduction Network and the work we have done together reminds us that we are not helpless – or hopeless – in the face of violence. It makes clear that by bridging divides and building trust, we can shape the direction of our communities. And it demonstrates that when law enforcement and communities present a united front against violence, we can make progress. That is exactly what each of you is doing – and that is why I am so inspired to be here today. There is no doubt that these are challenging times. Where the relationship of trust has frayed and broken, we see the mistrust within the community; we see the underlying fear within many of our friends and neighbors that when they are threatened by violence, they will have no one to call. Where violence stalks our citizens, we see the worry and concern on the faces of parents and elected officials alike. We see all of that.
But let me tell you what else I see. Right here in this room, I see dedicated law enforcement officers whose first concern is the safety and well-being of the people they serve. I see tireless federal colleagues who understand that Washington does not have a monopoly on good ideas. I see elected leaders looking to forge innovative alliances, build powerful coalitions and inspire hope. Above all, I see compassionate individuals who believe that in the United States of America in 2016, no man, woman, or child – no one – should live in the shadow of violence. And through great programs like VRN – and through effective partnerships with each of you – I am confident that we can dispel that awful shadow of violence with the light of justice.
So let me thank all of you for helping to bring that light into your communities. Let me thank you for your commitment and your leadership. I pledge that you will continue to have a willing partner in the Department of Justice. And I look forward to all we will accomplish together in the days ahead.