Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here. It is a pleasure to join so many law enforcement officers, students and youth leaders, faith leaders and community officials as we discuss the work that is underway here in Cincinnati and across the country. I’d like to thank Chief of Police [Jeffrey] Blackwell for welcoming me to Cincinnati today and for his exemplary leadership of the Cincinnati Police Department. And I want to recognize our outstanding U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Carter Stewart and Mayor [John] Cranley, for their help in putting together this important convening.
The issue of trust between and among law enforcement officers and the communities we serve is the issue of our times. It has come to the forefront of our national discussion and captured a great deal of media attention due to recent tragic events in New York, Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities. Protest movements have emerged and people are speaking out. But let’s be clear – this is not a new issue. The people in this room have recognized and been working on these issues for years. You have seen how the underlying issues of education, joblessness, homelessness and hopelessness impact the community overall and police-community relations in particular.
As many of you know, my first trip as Attorney General, just a few weeks ago, was to Baltimore – a city that was, and is, in deep distress. I met with a wide variety of individuals – from peaceful protestors who were anxious about the violence in their city, to the law enforcement officers who had worked 16 days without a break but were still focused only on the safety of their residents. And even after the unrest, I was optimistic – because from everyone I met, I heard the same thing: “I love my city and I want to make it better.”
Of course, this issue of broken and damaged trust is not Baltimore’s alone – it exists in cities and communities across the nation. But the hope that I saw in Baltimore – and the determination from residents and law enforcement officers to improve their city together – is present across the country as well. It is here in Cincinnati. There is no doubt that we face big challenges, but I believe that Americans are equal to the task. And I want to do everything I can to help.
To that end, this session is the first in a series of meetings I will be convening with law enforcement and community leaders around the country in the coming weeks and months - here in Cincinnati, Ohio; Birmingham, Alabama; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Richmond, California; Seattle, Washington; and East Haven, Connecticut - to highlight important and innovative work in police-community relations, and to examine ways in which those programs can be applied to other jurisdictions. Every city deserves an outstanding, world-class police force that works alongside local residents to protect public safety. And every officer deserves the tools, training and support they need to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible.
Earlier today, I had the opportunity to tour Chase Elementary school in Northside and to see for myself some of the groundbreaking work that Chief Blackwell’s officers are doing in this city. Within that environment, through the “Right to Read” program, new police officers are engaging with kids every week – reading with them, mentoring them and creating durable, positive relationships. To these kids, public safety officials aren’t intimidating strangers. They are big brothers and sisters; role models and friends. And in fact, I understand that, over the course of this program, test scores among mentored children have risen and teachers are expecting further improvement. In addition to this school program, officers are finding other ways to serve their communities beyond their regular duties – from spending time with vulnerable seniors to assisting homeless individuals.
Initiatives like these help residents form closer bonds with the men and women who wear the badge. They demonstrate Cincinnati’s commitment to all of its residents. And they represent the kind of innovative, exciting approach that may resonate in other neighborhoods across the country.
I am proud to say that the Department of Justice is committed to doing our part to support law enforcement and residents in this community and nationwide. We awarded nearly $280 million in Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funds in 2014 alone to promote the capacity of local jurisdictions to harness their considerable knowledge and expertise. We’ve invested in projects like the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice and the $20 million Body-Worn Camera Pilot Partnership Program I announced just a few weeks ago. And through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – led by Director Ron Davis, who I’m pleased to have here with us today – we’ve provided funds to precincts and districts across the country, allowing them to hire or retain thousands of officers. In fact, in Cincinnati, we awarded nearly $7 million in 2011 and nearly $2 million in 2014 to support a total of 40 officers.
These are important investments. But we have a great deal more to do. And I want to make clear that the Department of Justice – and the Obama Administration – is committed to staying engaged on these issues, not just for now, but also for the long term. Long after the cameras are gone, we will still be here with you. That is my pledge to you.
That’s why the president created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which is designed to find ways to strengthen public trust and foster positive relationships between local law enforcement and the communities that they protect, while also promoting effective crime reduction. After months of hearings and extensive engagement, the Task Force released its interim report in March, emphasizing recommendations for local law enforcement and the federal government. And I am excited to work alongside all of you – and your counterparts nationwide – to find ways to implement these recommendations and build on the outstanding work that you are already doing.
Now, I have no illusions that alleviating deeply ingrained mistrust will be easy; the challenges we face did not arise in a day and change will not come overnight. It will take time and sustained effort. But by looking to examples like Cincinnati and with the help of outstanding partners like the men, women and young people here with us now, I am confident that we can create stronger, safer, more united communities together. Once again, I would like to thank all of you for hosting me today and I look forward to all that we will achieve together for our communities and our country.