Thank you, Steve for that kind introduction, and thank you for your 14 years of service to the Department of Justice. I also want to thank your colleagues, Jay Town in the Northern District, and Clark Morris in the Middle District, who are here.
On behalf of President Trump and the entire Department of Justice, I am here to thank you all for the work that you do. The President is proud to stand with you. He ran and was elected as the law-and-order candidate, and now he is governing as a law-and-order President. I am proud to help him implement that agenda and I am proud to join him in standing with you.
And let me just say: it is good to be home.
I remember the very first statewide LECC Conference. It was in Gulf Shores and I think we had maybe 50 people attend. This year I’m told we have more than 400 people here. I believe that is a testament to the growing relationships we have fostered between law enforcement at all levels, and my hope is that those relationships will continue to grow.
But even if it were still just 50 of us again, it would still be wonderful to come back home. South Alabama is where I began my career as a prosecutor. This is where I learned so many lessons that I still draw upon to this day.
I have been blessed in my life. I had the opportunity to serve as a federal prosecutor for 14 years. I have been the attorney general and a United States Senator of this beautiful state, and now Attorney General for the greatest country in history.
That journey started here in South Alabama.
And there is nothing I am prouder of than what we accomplished in that little office in Mobile. I still cherish the fact that I got to stand up in court and say, “the United States is ready.” I will never get over that. I hope that you never get over knowing you represent our community.
Over my 14 years in the Southern District, we accomplished so much. We took on corruption; we broke up national and international fraud schemes, and we took drugs off our streets. But none of it would have been possible without the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers—including many of the people in this room. We worked together to fight crime and defend the rights of Alabamians, and we forged friendships that continue to this day.
I know the impact that each of you has on your community. I know it because I’ve seen it firsthand. I know it because this is my community too.
That’s why I am so proud to work at your side to fight crime.
But today we are facing troubling new challenges. We’re facing an increase in violent crime, a rise in criminal gangs, the threat of terrorism, an unprecedented drug epidemic, and cultural trends that too often denigrate the indispensable roles played by family, discipline, and a disturbing disrespect for the rule of law.
After decreasing for nearly 20 years because of the hard but necessary work our country started in the 1980s, violent crime is back with a vengeance. The murder rate surged nearly 11 percent nationwide in 2015 – the largest increase since 1968. Per capita homicide rates are up in 27 of our 35 largest cities.
My best judgment is that, unfortunately, this is not a blip. I’m concerned that this might be a reversal of the progress we worked so hard to achieve, and we cannot accept that. We must fight back before this trend can grow.
To make matters worse, as homicide deaths have gone up, drug overdose deaths have gone up even faster. Drugs are killing more Americans than ever before. Three times as many Americans die from drug overdoses as from homicides.
According to our best estimates, nearly 60,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. That’s more than the population of Decatur. Not only is that the highest drug-related death toll in our history, but it would also mark the fastest increase in drug deaths we’ve ever seen. For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.
Sadly, Alabama isn’t immune to these problems. No state in America is. More than 700 Alabamians died of drug overdoses in 2015.
And yet, with this record death toll, many people continue to say that drug abuse is no big deal or merely a private matter. They’re wrong. Drug addiction is filling up our emergency rooms, our foster homes, and our cemeteries. It has consequences that affect every one of us, and we’ve got to be clear about that. When you’ve got a rattlesnake in your bed, it’s bad advice to rest easy.
These numbers are shocking—but they aren’t just numbers. They represent moms and dads, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. They represent the loss of unique, irreplaceable people, and fellow Americans.
One of the hardest parts of your job is that, as law enforcement officers, you have a front row seat to this drug crisis, and you confront its consequences every day. You’ve seen lives destroyed. You’ve looked into the faces of families in mourning.
And yet you continue to do your job, undaunted. You put others first.
You are the thin blue line that stands between law-abiding people and criminals, between order and lawlessness. You protect our communities, and by enforcing our laws, you enable those communities to flourish.
Now, the vast majority of our country recognizes this. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Gallup released a poll that showed that overall confidence in the police has risen significantly. This won’t come as too much of a surprise, but you’re more than three times as popular as Congress.
All to often critics of law enforcement talk about police officers like they’re the problem, instead of the solution to crime. And they intentionally ignore that the Justice Department vigorously prosecutes officers in the cases when they violate the civil rights of our citizens.
You know the usual script: they take one or two bad examples and say they represent the hundreds of thousands of police officers who serve around the country. This is wrong, and it’s a slander of the honorable men and women in law enforcement. This slander has got to stop—and it’s got to stop right now.
This rhetoric, unfortunately, has consequences. It discourages cooperation with you, making us less safe. And it can even encourage violence. It’s no surprise, then, that we see rising levels of violence against law enforcement.
Last year, 66 law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty – a 61 percent increase compared to 2015. And FBI data show that about a third of those deaths were the result of premeditated or unprovoked attacks.
This deadly trend seems to be getting worse. Preliminary data shows that officer deaths through the first six months of 2017 were up 18 percent.
We saw just this kind of tragic violence three weeks ago, when six officers were shot in a single night. Two of them – Sergeant Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter, of Kissimmee, Florida – lost their lives. Sgt. Howard was just 36 years old, and Officer Baxter was just 27. Both were husbands and fathers.
In July, Officer Miosotis Familia, a 12-year veteran of the New York Police Department and mother of three, was gunned down in cold blood by an assassin while sitting in her police van.
We pray for our lost brothers and sisters and their families. We do all we can to support their grieving families and friends, and we vow to do all in our power to protect law enforcement and give you the respect that you deserve. Every American should appreciate the work that you do and the sacrifices you make.
At Officer Familia’s funeral, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said it well: “cops are regular people who believe in the possibility of making this a safer world. That’s why we run toward danger, when others run away.”
But please always remember that I stand with and President Trump stands with you. He supports you not just with his words, but with his actions. When I was sworn in as Attorney General, he sent me three Executive Orders. First, he sent us the ‘back the blue’ order to support our law enforcement at all levels. Second, he made it our overall objective to “reduce crime” across the country. And third, he has ordered us to focus on dismantling transnational criminal organizations.
Since President Trump gave us these orders, we have implemented a number of critical law enforcement policy changes, and we are already seeing results.
First of all, we are trusting our prosecutors again. I have directed federal prosecutors to once again charge defendants with the most serious offense they can prove. This is a return to a longstanding, common sense policy. A policy that I believe Americans would expect of our prosecutors. It’s the same standard I used as a prosecutor in Mobile.
I also directed our prosecutors to focus on taking illegal guns off the streets. This is so important and goes to the heart of violent crime. Since I issued that order, we have seen a 23 percent increase in the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. Fewer illegal guns in the hands of criminals means safer streets for you to patrol.
In July, the Department reinstituted the federal adoptions program. Once again, we restored a longstanding, bipartisan policy that had been undermined by the previous administration. This program is a key tool that helps you defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed. The practice of civil asset forfeiture, when done right, weakens the criminals and the cartels. It takes the material support of the criminals and makes it the material support of law enforcement. And in police departments in Alabama and across this country you see the results: funds that were once used to take lives are now being used to save lives.
These policy changes are already bearing fruit. Since the beginning of this year, the Department has secured the convictions of more than 1,200 members of gangs, cartels, and their subsidiaries. With these convictions, we are putting criminals on notice that they are not safe—we will find them. That helps us deter crime.
While I’m proud of these results, I will be the first to tell you we have not done it alone. We can never even hope to do it alone. 85 percent of law enforcement officers are state, local, or tribal. The vast majority of policing in this country is done at these levels. And when you’re more effective, so are we. This is your work. These are your well-earned successes.
And this is why a conference such as this, a law enforcement coordinating conference, is so important. And the work and coordination you do on a daily basis is so important. The more we work together, the more effective we will be. So I thank all of you for taking the time to attend this conference, and the United States Attorneys’ Offices here in Alabama for sponsoring it.
That’s why President Trump and this administration are going to continue to build on our efforts to support you. Earlier this week, the President issued an executive order that will make it easier to protect yourselves and those you serve. This order rescinded restrictions from the last administration that limited your ability to use federal programs to get life-saving equipment like Kevlar vests and helmets and first responder and rescue equipment.
Some of these programs, like the Department of Defense's 1033 program that Congress signed into law more than 25 years ago, have recycled more than $5.4 billion in used gear and equipment that taxpayers had already purchased. Rather than letting this equipment sit idle and unused, we’ve made it available for your agencies to use in the fight against terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters.
You know how important this equipment can be. It includes the types of helmets and gear that stopped a bullet and saved the life of an officer during the Orlando nightclub shooting. It includes the type of equipment officers needed when they pursued and ultimately killed terrorists in San Bernardino. We’re also talking about helicopters and armored vehicles that can be used in emergency and disaster response efforts. If anybody doesn’t think this equipment can help save lives, all they need to do is turn on a TV right now to see what’s happening in Houston.
This equipment will help you do your jobs. And by helping you, it helps us at the Department. Studies have shown that this equipment reduces assaults against police, complaints against police, and crime overall. And reducing crime is our mission.
I trust that, with these new tools, you will get even better results. The Department of Justice and the Trump Administration are proud to stand with you as you continue to do this honorable work. We will always have your back and you will always have our thanks.
Thank you, and God bless you.