Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you Charlie, for that generous introduction and thank you for your service as United States Attorney. I know that you had a lot of success in private practice—including three years at King and Spalding, which is the alma mater of my good friends Larry Thompson and Chris Wray.
Thank you also to your predecessor, Pete Peterman. Thank you for being here.
I’ve been impressed by a lot of the work done in this office. I saw that you worked with the Athens-Clarke County Police to put a dangerous, career heroin dealer from Athens behind bars for 22 years. AUSA Peter Leary, great work.
Most of all—on behalf of President Donald Trump—I want to thank all of the federal officers who are here with us today:
- Andy Smith of FBI
- Robert Murphy of DEA
- Art Peralta of ATF
- Jaime Harmon of IRS
- Joe Cooper of ICE
- U.S. Marshal John Cary Bittick
- Clint Bush of the Secret Service, and
- Jarrett Arrington and Ernest Williams with our Postal Inspectors
While we are inexpressibly proud of our fabulous federal officers, we also understand and appreciate the fact that 85 percent of the law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels. It is simple arithmetic that we cannot succeed without you.
And so I want to thank:
- Kim Baker of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation
- Chief Joe Chapman of the Department of Community Supervision
- Ray Ham with the Georgia Gang Intelligence Agency, as well as
- Georgia FOP president Jamy Steinberg,
- Six sheriffs,
- Three District Attorneys, and
- Seven police chiefs.
Thank you all for being here. And on behalf of President Trump, thank you for your service.
President Trump is a law-and-order president. He appreciates the work you do every day.
This Department of Justice has listened to you and we want to be a force multiplier for you. We want to give you the tools that you need to be successful and to keep dangerous criminals behind bars.
One of my most important goals as Attorney General is to help restore officer morale. In recent years, too many of you were taken for granted, ignored, or even maligned by political leaders. President Trump came into office determined to change that.
But even now, there are still many politicians who don’t appreciate you.
Earlier this week, a U.S. Senator called our justice system “racist...And when I say our system, I mean all the way. I mean front to back…on the front end—what you declare to be illegal—[and] on how you enforce it, on who gets arrested.”
This is a slander of every law officer and every prosecutor in America. And, frankly, I think it is an insult to their families and to the crime victims they have helped to face their attacker.
And so this slur isn’t just wrong. It’s sad.
Also this week, a crowd of protesters in Philadelphia chanted “no good cops in a racist system.”
Our officers face enough challenges—long and unpredictable work days, threats from violent criminals, and exposure to dangerous drugs, to name a few. The last thing that you need are political leaders and fellow citizens disrespecting you and the goals that you work so hard to accomplish.
Every time an officer in the United States dies in the line of duty, it comes across my desk. And as a small expression of my appreciation, I send a condolence letter to their families.
I’ve already sent 70 this year.
That means that in an average week this year, two officers have been killed in the line of duty.
That includes Officer Anthony Christie of the Savannah Police Department. He was a decorated war veteran who served this country for 13 years in the Navy.
Just a little over a year after he joined Savannah police, he was parked with his lights on to divert traffic away from a car accident, when a tractor trailer struck him and killed him.
He died protecting people who had just been in a car accident. He left behind his beloved wife Nicole.
Officers are being killed and wounded to keep people safe—even the protesters who treat them with disdain and the politicians who call them names.
And so I wanted to be here to tell you that this President and I support you. We respect you. And we value your work.
We affirm the critical role of police officers in our society and we will not participate in anything that would give comfort to criminals or radicals who promote agendas that preach hostility rather than respect for police.
We know whose side we’re on. We’re on the side of law enforcement. We are implacable foes of criminals – like you.
We’re also on the side of crime victims.
That’s why I today I am announcing that the Department of Justice will award $3.4 billion to states for victims services, the biggest single-year victims services distribution ever. This funding will cover costs like medical fees, lost income, funeral expenses, and other costs.
Almost all of the funds—$3.3 billion—will come from fines, fees, and special assessments paid by criminals, not the taxpayer. So this grant is helping crime victims and it’s also holding criminals accountable.
We have inherited and advanced the greatest justice system in the history of the world. Is it perfect? Of course not. But we are blessed to live under this system and to be stewards of it. I’d like to know whose justice system this Senator would prefer.
The law officers who serve under this system do heroic work that enables us to live in peace.
Rather than deriding officers like you, Senators could be helpful and give you the tools that you need to be successful.
Right now we are missing one of the most important law enforcement tools we had because of a 2015 Supreme Court decision holding that the legal definition of “violent felony” was too vague.
Regardless of the merits of the Court’s decision, the consequences have been devastating for Americans across the country. We need a fix.
This court decision led to the release of a man who got his sentence shortened by five years. Nine months later, he absconded from a halfway house and was arrested for drug charges, battery, and felony aggravated assault. This past October he pled guilty to battery, obstruction of law enforcement officers, giving a false name to law enforcement officers, and possession of drug-use related objects.
If he had been in jail, then he could not have committed these crimes.
The decision led to the release of another man in Georgia who was arrested a year later for sex trafficking. According to the indictment, he began trafficking his victim just nine months after his release.
Sixteen violent criminals in Georgia have been released since this Court ruling, and six of them have already reoffended.
In Utah, a career criminal released by this decision tortured and murdered two teenagers and then threw their bodies down a mineshaft.
A released career criminal in California allegedly murdered his father, carjacked a vehicle and killed the driver.
In Oregon, a released career criminal held a Subway sandwich shop hostage and then shot a police officer just 18 days after he was released.
Sadly, I could go on and on.
So why did this happen?
The Supreme Court struck down part of a law called the Armed Career Criminal Act. It had been on the books for 30 years and applied thousands of times.
This is the law that requires a minimum 15- year sentence for felons caught with a firearm after their third violent felony or serious drug trafficking conviction.
The Court ruled that the definition of “violent felony” was too vague.
The next thing you know, the Court applied the same reasoning to an immigration law. They said that the term “crime of violence” is too vague.
And then—just in the last month and a half—federal judges have even started releasing criminals charged with terrorism-related offenses for the same reason.
In July, a federal judge just outside of Washington, D.C.—which is perhaps the terrorists’ number one target—ordered the release of a man who trained with a terrorist group in Afghanistan just before 9/11.
She said that that “crime of violence” is too vague, unless the charges are related to “a serious potential risk,” which she apparently doesn’t think is vague.
At the beginning of August, a judge vacated the conviction of a man serving a life sentence on terrorism-related charges and ordered that he be released, also citing “vagueness” as the reason.
So we’ve got a real problem here—and it could get a whole lot worse. Congress has a duty to clarify the law.
As far as the Armed Career Criminal Act goes, these are not “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders,” who we are always told are filling up the jails. These are felons with multiple serious convictions who are caught with a firearm.
This is no little matter. In 2016, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that nearly seven out of ten career criminals reoffended after being released. Federal firearms offenders were found to be the most likely to be rearrested of any category. These criminals are both. They are career criminals and firearms offenders.
Nationwide, the Supreme Court’s decision has resulted in more than 1,400 violent career criminals back onto our streets.
Six-hundred of those 1,400 criminals have been arrested again. It’s only been three years since the Court decision, but 42 percent have already reoffended.
On average, these 600 criminals have been arrested or reoffended three times in the last three years. A majority of those who have been out of prison for just two years have been arrested again.
Every crime committed by a recidivist released early by this court case would not have happened.
The recidivism rate is staggering, but let’s remember: this is still likely an underrepresentation of their illegal activity. Any law officer in this room will tell you that criminals rarely get caught on their first offense. We can only imagine how many crimes they have really committed and how many innocent people they have victimized.
Releasing hardened criminals into our communities before they serve their minimum term is not fair to crime victims or law enforcement.
We need Congress to fix the law so that we can keep violent career criminals off of our streets. That shouldn’t be controversial.
Fortunately, some Members of Congress are helping.
As a former Senator, I have to say, Georgia is well-represented in the Senate by my good friends Johnny Isakson and David Perdue.
And last week, my good friends and former colleagues Senator Tom Cotton, Senator Orrin Hatch, and Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would restore the Armed Career Criminal Act. It has already been endorsed by the National Association of Police Organizations and the National Sheriffs’ Association. I want to thank them for caring about these issues and treating officers like you with respect.
We should look for effective and proven ways to reduce recidivism, but we must also recognize that simply reducing sentences without reducing recidivism unfairly creates more victims.
There are those who would rather that we go easy on cartels and gangs. They falsely claim it will save money to let the criminals back onto our streets early. They use innocent-sounding terms like “low-level, nonviolent offender” to make people think these aren’t serious criminals. Make no mistake—we aren’t prosecuting the low-level drug possession cases at the federal level. Even those drug traffickers who are at lower levels in the cartels and gangs typically avoid mandatory minimum sentences under federal law. But there are still those who would have you believe we should release the criminals early, shorten sentences for serious federal traffickers, and go soft on crime. That would be bad for the rule of law, it would be bad for public safety, and it would be bad for the communities across America, like Chicago, that these criminals ravage with their violence.
And so I hope that—rather than slandering you or defaming you—our representatives in Congress will step up and give us the kind of strong laws we can use to take violent criminals off of the streets. It is no exaggeration to say that there are lives at stake.
Thank you again for having me here today. It is always an honor to speak to you—the front lines of our nation’s law enforcement.
In this joint effort, you can be certain about this: we have your backs and you have our thanks.