Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Alan, for that kind introduction. Alan was my legislative director in the Senate and now he is doing a fabulous job running our Office of Justice Programs. Great job, Alan.
I’d also like to thank Darlene Hutchinson for all of the hard work that made this event possible and for her leadership in our Office for Victims of Crime.
I remember when Darlene and I spoke at Victims’ Rights Week events in Montgomery more than 20 years ago when I was Attorney General of Alabama.
She was a tenacious grassroots advocate back then, and I’m glad that she has joined us here to lead OVC, an agency that has helped countless families across the country.
A special thank you to our guest speaker, Detective Mark Slavsky, of the Wheat Ridge, Colorado Police Department. I really wish I could stay to hear your remarks—maybe you can get me a copy later. Thank you for being here to share your experience and your insights—and thank you for your 37 years in law enforcement.
I’d like to thank all of you for being here as we commemorate the 37th National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
When this commemoration started back in 1981, the crime victims movement was—one might reasonably say—the driving force behind a series of criminal justice reforms that ended the two-decade rise in crime and began a period of declining crime.
The people of America—fighting certain elites all the way—quit seeing criminals as victims and finally recognized who it is that is the wrongdoer.
From the beginning, crime victims were a phalanx of support for important legal reforms. The Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 required victim impact statements before sentencing.
My fellow U.S. Attorneys and I started designating Victim-Witness Coordinators. It made our system more just.
I’ve seen the transformation up close. I’ve been in and around law enforcement for nearly 40 years. Over that time, some of the strongest and most inspiring people I have met have been survivors of crime.
We are going to ensure that this Department—and indeed, our justice system—is always responsive to their needs and working for them.
At this Department, we defend the safety and liberty of honest citizens—especially crime victims—and we are the hammer of justice that provides the discipline required to stop the criminals and establish order—without which there can be no peaceful and prosperous society.
I remember when President Reagan established the first national Victims Rights Week back in 1981. He had just appointed me as United States Attorney. In his presidential proclamation, he observed that “for too long, the victims of crime have been the forgotten persons of our criminal justice system … Yet the protection of our citizens – to guard them from becoming victims – is the primary purpose of our penal laws.”
President Reagan started a national conversation that was long overdue.
And for those of us in the trenches prosecuting criminals, it gave us a greater sense of urgency, and it reminded us what was at stake in our work.
The most important thing that any government does is protect the rights of its citizens. And first among those rights is the right to be safe. Without that, nothing else we do will succeed. Businesses won’t open or create jobs. Kids won’t succeed in school. Quality of life will go down.
Middle-class Americans see their home values plummet while the rich retreat to their walled compounds.
That’s what is at stake when crime goes up.
And, from 2014 to 2016, the violent crime rate stopped declining and went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder shot up by more than 20 percent.
Drug use, addictions, and overdose deaths hit records never known before. In large part that was because America forgot the lessons you taught us in the 1980s.
The result was more misery, more desperation, and more lost potential in American neighborhoods. It resulted in thousands more crime victims across America.
Some people say, don’t worry, it’s just a blip.
Or they say that crime is like the tides, going up and down and there’s nothing police can do about it.
I call it Hill Street Blues syndrome. They think police just lock up crooks over and over until kingdom come and it’s all an exercise in futility. Essentially what they’re saying is, police and smart incarceration don’t make much of a difference and rising crime is not a big deal.
I utterly reject that view. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Police do make a difference. Crime victims groups do make a difference. And every single crime victim is important. Every crime victim deserves the protection of the law—and they deserve justice.
Over just those two years when crime was increasing, more than 4,500 people were killed who might have lived if crime rates had stayed flat. Each one of those people was equal in dignity to each one of us. Each of them were deeply loved by a family, by a group of friends, and by a community.
And in addition to the lives we lost, there are countless more survivors who are living with scars both visible and invisible.
That’s why, at this Department of Justice under President Trump, we are so passionate about enforcing our laws. That’s why we are so aggressive in going after gang members and drug dealers. That’s why we’ve already increased violent crime prosecutions to 25-year highs and increased gun prosecutions to 10-year highs.
That’s why our law enforcement community is so supportive of President Trump and are so pleased to have a leader who proudly declares himself a “law and order President.”
Our goal is not to fill up the prisons. Our goal is to reduce crime in America, to serve and protect law-abiding Americans and their families, to make America safer.
Today’s award recipients have done just that. They have served—and they have served with distinction.
I’ve heard the stories, and they make me proud.
These are people who provide support to victims immediately at the crime scene. These are people who ensure that victims are secure in their legal rights. They help them obtain therapy after traumatic experiences involving sexual assault or domestic violence.
They offer counsel in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. They bring closure by investigating and prosecuting violent criminals. And they bring financial relief by recovering stolen funds and selling seized assets. They help victims to be able to speak to the prosecutor and judge before plea bargains and sentencing.
We are inexpressibly proud of our award recipients today. And we are proud of the thousands of other victim service providers who are helping survivors heal and regain quality of life—some of whom are here with us. I’m grateful for their work, too.
But I’m sure they would be the first to tell you that there is still much work to be done in this country for victims of crime.
A few months ago, our Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report that found that only 12 percent of victims of serious violence reported that they had received services to assist them in the aftermath of the crime.
That number is far too low.
This week is an important time for us in the law enforcement community to get the word out about what services we can provide for victims of crime. We at the Department of Justice have significant resources to help victims and encourage enforcement of victims’ rights. We need to do more to get these resources to those who need them.
We cannot accept this status quo. And we will not accept it.
Here’s my message: we will not allow victims to suffer in silence while criminals walk free. We will do what we can to bring justice to victims and consequences to those who harm them.
For example, just yesterday, we announced the payment of more than $500 million to the victims of the Bernie Madoff financial scam, funds which we forfeited. In total, the Department of Justice has returned more than $1.2 billion to the victims in this case.
And for survivors of violent crime, we work to achieve justice and to provide the services and compensation they deserve.
We cannot undo all the damage that criminals have done—but we can help provide some relief to the victims. And we’re going to continue to do that.
Above all, we will continue our work to prevent honest, law-abiding Americans from becoming victims in the first place—so that every American can feel safe and secure in their communities and in their rights.