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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative Grantee Conference


Chicago, IL
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Thanks everyone. Thanks Eddie.

Eddie, if getting a call from my chief of staff bring up the Wu-Tang Clan — what does a call ... what image does a call from me bring up? You can tell me afterwards.

Chicago is also my hometown, and it’s great to be here.

Almost three years ago, when I had been Attorney General for just a few months, I came to Chicago to meet with our law enforcement and community partners.

I visited READI Chicago, a groundbreaking gun violence prevention initiative.

I met case managers, job coaches, and outreach workers at READI. I heard from several of the young men they serve.

And I met READI Chicago’s incredibly energetic Director — named Eddie Bocanegra.

At that time, this community, like so many across the country, had spent a long and difficult year grappling with a sharp spike in violent crime.

There were three separate mass shootings in Chicago the night before I arrived.

I do not need to tell this group, or this city, that violent crime is devastating, and that the violent crime that began surging early in the pandemic took an enormous toll on communities across the country.

Violent crime is devastating to the victims who are injured or killed. It is devastating to the entire families who are shattered by the loss of their loved ones. Low-income communities and communities of color often suffer the devastating consequences at the highest rates.

Violent crime is also devastating to law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect their communities. And it is devastating for the families of the law enforcement officers who share in their enormous sacrifice.

Violent crime is not just a threat to people’s physical safety. It is a threat to their ability to go freely about their daily lives. It makes people live in fear: afraid to walk down the street, to get in their car at night, to let their children play outside.

Violent crime isolates people and their communities. It deepens the fractures in our public life.

And when it is not addressed, it can undermine people’s trust in government and in each other.

When I became Attorney General three years ago, I knew that grappling with the violent crime spike would be one of the greatest challenges we would face at the Justice Department.

So, we enlisted our grantmaking experts, our law enforcement agents, and our prosecutors to figure out the best way to use our resources and expertise.

We brought to bear our advanced technological tools — ballistics analysis, firearms tracing, gun intelligence centers, and local fusion cells. And we combined them with our prosecutorial tools to find, arrest, and convict the individuals who have repeatedly committed violent offenses  and criminal organizations that are the principal drivers of violent crime.

Central to our strategy has been the importance of our partnerships: our partnerships among federal law enforcement agencies assisting in the fight against violent crime; our partnerships with the state and local law enforcement agencies that protect their local communities every day; and critically, our partnerships with community members, leaders, and organizations like those represented in this room today.

We have supported community policing efforts that build the public trust between law enforcement and the community that we know is essential to public safety. We have awarded billions of dollars to support these efforts of our law enforcement and community partners nationwide.

And we have made historic investments in evidence-based, community-centered initiatives aimed at preventing and disrupting violence. In the last two years alone, we have delivered nearly $200 million to support life-saving programs.

We have so much more to do.

The Justice Department will not rest until every person, in every neighborhood, in every community is safe from violent crime. And I know you will not rest either.

But today, I want to do something that I wish I could do more often — and that is to focus on some good news.

Thanks in part to the hard work of the people in this room and so many others outside it, we are starting to see meaningful results in the effort to reduce violent crime.

The FBI reports that last year we saw a significant decrease in overall violent crime across the country compared to the previous year — including an over 13% decline in homicides.

That is the largest one-year decline in homicides in 50 years.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association likewise reports a significant decrease in overall violent crime and a double-digit decline in homicides across 69 major cities.

Data from individual cities bears this out:

In Detroit, 2023 marked the fewest homicides in 57 years — a decline from 309 homicides in 2022 to 252 homicides in 2023.

In Baltimore, there was a 20% reduction in homicides last year, and a 7% reduction in non-fatal shootings.

In New Orleans, 2023 marked a 25% decline in homicides.

And in Philadelphia, there was a 20% reduction in homicides.

And although there is still so much more to do, homicides right here in Chicago decreased by 13% last year.

These declines are not just abstract statistics. As you know so well, they represent people — people who are still here to see their children grow up, to work toward fulfilling their dreams, and to contribute to their communities.

I want to be very clear about something: there is no acceptable level of violent crime. Too many communities are still struggling, and too many people are still scared. The hard-fought progress we saw last year can easily slip away. So, we must remain focused and vigilant.

But I also know that it is time to thank the people who have contributed to this progress:  

Our state and local law enforcement partners;

Our federal law enforcement agencies;  

And, critically, all of you — those in this room —those in this room and across the country who work every day to make their communities safer.

So, thank you.

Everyone in this country deserves to be safe and to feel safe in their community. Every person, in every neighborhood, deserves to be protected and to feel protected.

That is why the Justice Department is not easing up on our efforts to reduce violent crime. In fact, today, we are doubling down.

Today I am announcing that the Department will be making a $78 million investment in community violence intervention programs and research across the country. Those solicitations are going live for applications today.

Get out there! What are you waiting for? Now, no one is going to listen to the rest of this.

Those funds will go directly to organizations, like those represented in this room, that are making strides in driving down violent crime and building community trust across the country.

Past grantees include programs like the one I visited three years ago — READI Chicago. A recent study of the READI program noted a 65% decline in shooting and homicide arrests among participants over the course of 20 months. And among participants referred by outreach workers, the study found a 79% decline in arrests and victimizations for shootings and a 43% decline in homicides.

In addition to funding evidence-informed, community-centered initiatives aimed at preventing and disrupting violence, we are also engaging with community violence intervention programs as our partners across the country.

For example, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico partnered with the City of Albuquerque’s Violence Intervention Program as part of DOJ’s Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Albuquerque’s Violence Intervention Program works to identify and intervene with the individuals most likely to engage in gun violence. According to data from the City of Albuquerque, 94% of participants in the program have not engaged in violent crime in the past two years.

The Justice Department is committed to continuing to make historic investments in community violence intervention. And I am personally committed to making sure that those of you in this room, and our partners across the country, who are protecting our communities, get the support you need and deserve.

As I said, we are using every tool we have to reduce violent crime. So, I want to take this opportunity to announce two more actions the Department is taking.

Over the past three years, we surged prosecutorial resources to three cities that experienced a record rise in violent crime.

In Houston and Memphis, we launched a Violent Crime Initiative that brought prosecutors from the Department’s Criminal Division to work closely with prosecutors already on the ground to target those responsible for the greatest violence. That initiative also engages with community-based organizations that focus on violence prevention, intervention, and reentry programs.

Earlier this year, we announced an additional surge of resources to Washington, D.C., to combat violent crime in our nation’s capital.

Today, we are launching the next phase of our Violent Crime Initiative in St. Louis, Missouri; Jackson, Mississippi; and Hartford, Connecticut.

Today, I am also announcing that the ATF is releasing the third volume of its National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment. This is the most comprehensive look at America’s crime gun data in over two decades.

The report finds that the flood of illegal guns into our communities is increasingly driven by individuals who sell guns without a license, and who do not conduct background checks on their sales. As the report indicates, these black-market guns are often found at crime scenes.

That is why the Justice Department is putting to use the new resources and authorities Congress gave us in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant piece of gun safety legislation in 30 years.

Pursuant to the Act, we have proposed a rule to clarify when gun dealers must get licenses and conduct background checks. We are using the Act’s new criminal authorities to go after the gun traffickers and straw purchasers responsible for flooding our communities with illegal guns. And we are delivering $250 million over five years, authorized by that Act, to support community violence intervention efforts.

These efforts represent just a fraction of the work that our grantmaking experts, prosecutors, and law enforcement agents are doing every day to help protect our communities. There will be more to come.

No one at the Justice Department, and I know that no one in this room, will rest until every person and every community is safe from violent crime.

I began my remarks this morning by talking about the visit I made here three years ago, and the outstanding leader of the community violence intervention program who I met on that visit. I am grateful that Eddie has since joined us at the Justice Department.

Speaking for all of us at the DOJ, Eddie, thank you for the enormous contributions to advancing our community violence intervention that you have made and that you have continued to make.

Thanks also to Ben Mizer, Acting Associate Attorney General, and Amy Solomon, head of the Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), for their extraordinary leadership.

And thanks to the entire OJP team, who have worked tirelessly to put this summit together, and who help drive the Department’s efforts to protect communities across the country day in and day out.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank all of our partners from across the country for gathering for this year’s summit. I was so pleased with last year’s first annual summit in St. Louis that I determined that I would come again this year.

I know that this year’s summit will be equally meaningful and that it will make an important contribution to our collective effort to keep our communities safer.

I look forward to seeing what comes out today’s conference, tomorrow’s meetings, the next day’s meetings. I’m sure it will be great, and I thank you all.

Violent Crime
Updated April 3, 2024