Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks to the Gatlinburg Law Enforcement Training Conference
Gatlinburg, TN
United States
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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Doug, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for your long history of service to the state of Tennessee and to our country.  We’re glad to have you at the Department of Justice.

And from the bottom of my heart: thank you for that moving tribute to law officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.

Last week I attended the Blue Mass in Washington.  That was also a powerful service and I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past few days.

Thank you for putting on this important gathering of law enforcement from 11 federal districts across seven states.  The Law Enforcement Training Conference has been critical to strengthening and improving the partnerships between federal, state, and local law enforcement here in Eastern Tennessee for 25 years. 

I’m pleased to see that my home state of Alabama is well-represented today.  It’s good to see Jay Town, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, and some of his staff.

I also want to thank our other U.S. Attorneys who are here: Donald Cochran, Michael Dunavant, "BJay" Pak, Rob Duncan, Russell Coleman, Andrew Murray, Beth Drake, Bill Powell, and Mike Stuart.  I want to thank you and your staff for your service to this Department.

In particular, I’d like to thank all of the Law Enforcement Coordinators who constantly work to improve our relationships with the 85 percent of law enforcement officers in this country who serve at the state, local, and tribal levels.  We know that we cannot succeed without them—so thank you for what you do.

I’d also like to thank Chief Brackins and District Attorney General Dunn for hosting us here in Gatlinburg.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will all get the chance to meet Steve Cook. He is the Director of our Office of Law Enforcement Liaison and an important part of my team to ensure we are serving our law enforcement partners. By the way, that position was empty under the previous administration, if that tells you anything.  Steve served here in Tennessee for many years both as a police officer and as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District, and now he does great work as a resource and a liaison to all of you.

I also want to recognize Larry Laurenzi, the First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.  After 36 years of federal service – under six administrations and in numerous roles – Larry is retiring.  Larry: our Department and our country are better because of your work.  Thank you.

In this very room are some of the best people in America. You and those you lead invest their lives in their communities to protect the innocent and vulnerable. You place your lives at risk for the safety of others, for law, for America.

It is a true honor for me, on behalf of President Trump to be with you and to do my best to help you to be more effective in reaching your goals – our goals — for a better America.

Steve Cook epitomizes the values we share. He is a blessing to me, to you, and the law enforcement community. He knows there is life outside Washington. He knows the work you do – from the police department to the U.S. Attorney’s office to Main Justice. Steve’s approach to law enforcement is exactly what we need now. Thank you for the sacrifices you make for the DOJ.

Norman Mailer – writing about the moon landing – said “there’s a razors edge between a hero's endeavor and vainglory.” High goals are okay—bold, but with judgement.

My best judgement is that working together we have an historic opportunity to make our country better, safer, and more prosperous. We don’t come to this conference with a blank slate. We are experienced. We are professional. We are trained to do that which the times demand.

The problem is that we got away from the proven policies that reduced crime all over this country: community-based policing, incarcerating serious repeat criminals, new technologies, more officers, and more prosecutors.

The war on crime and drugs did not fail. It was a roaring success. The success came as a direct result of rejecting the criticism and policies of the progressive left. The country gave its attention to the American people and crime victims for a change. High school drug use rates and homicide rates fell by half after the dreamland policies of the fuzzy-headed left were rejected, and sound professional policies were adopted.

Many of you were there. John Gill was there. Russ Dedrick was there.

Of course we don’t need anyone in jail that doesn’t need to be there. But revolving prison doors that allow dangerous criminals to prey on the innocent will not produce safety. Indeed homicide increased by 12 percent in 2015 and 8 percent in 2016 after 22 years of decline.

Drug use, addiction and overdoes deaths have surged.

We must work resolutely to stop those trends and to reverse them. We know how. We have proven what works. Science proves what works. We share good practices at conferences like this all the time. 

My goal is to support you, to empower you, and to unleash you and your law enforcement partners to apply the good and lawful policies that are proven to make our communities safer. 

This point was given a powerful support just a few weeks ago when Paul Cassell and Richard Fowles of the University of Utah analyzed the dramatic surge in Chicago homicides in 2016. Homicides went from 480 in 2015 to 754 in 2016—a stunning event.

They asked why. They considered numerous possible causes. They concluded the 58 percent increase was caused by the abrupt decline in “stop and frisks” in 2015. There had been a horrific police shooting, protests, and an ACLU lawsuit. The settlement of that lawsuit resulted in a decline in stops from 40,000 per month to 10,000 per month. Arrests fell also. In sum, they conclude that these actions in late 2016, conservatively calculated, resulted in approximately 236 additional victims killed and over 1,100 additional shootings in 2016 alone. The scholars call it the “ACLU effect”.

Look, this does not surprise you experienced professionals. If you want crime to go up, let the ACLU run the police department. If you want public safety, call the professionals. That is what President Trump believes and that is what I believe. Let’s put our focus on what works.

These are our explicit goals for 2018: to bring down violent crime, homicides, opioid prescriptions, and overdose deaths.

I have taken a number of steps at the Department of Justice to help us reach these goals.

We are working to create a lawful system of immigration.  That means defending the law not just at the border—but everywhere.

That is one of the problems with sanctuary cities.  It cannot be that someone who illegally crosses the border on a Monday and gets to San Francisco on a Wednesday is home free—never to be removed.

If you won’t deport somebody who came here illegally and then committed another crime, then who will you deport?  Nobody.  The sanctuary cities ideology is just another form of the extreme open borders ideology.

Eleven million people are already here illegally.  That’s more than the population of Georgia. 

Right now we are dealing with a massive influx of illegal aliens across our Southwest Border.  This February we saw 55 percent more border apprehensions than last February.  In April we saw triple the number from last April.  

Yesterday I announced that the Department of Homeland Security is partnering with us and will begin a new initiative that will result in referring 100 percent of illegal Southwest Border crossings to the Department of Justice for prosecution.  And the Department of Justice will take up as many of those cases as possible until we get to 100 percent.

If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you.  It’s that simple.

If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you.

If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.  If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.

If you make false statements to an immigration officer or commit fraud in our system to obtain an immigration benefit, that’s a felony.  We will put you in jail.

If you help others to do so, that’s a felony, too.

That’s why we are hiring 35 new Assistant United States Attorney positions in our Southwest Border offices.  I have also directed the Executive Office for Immigration Review to deploy 18 supervisory judges to detention centers along the southwest border.   We will send a message to the world: we enforce our laws in this country.

And so I’m calling on our federal prosecutors to do your part, too.  You may not be on the front lines on this—you may not be on the border—but you have prosecutorial responsibilities to enforce our immigration laws.

And some of you are doing that.    In the Eastern District of Tennessee, from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2017, prosecutions for illegal re-entry tripled.  In the Northern District of Alabama, reentry prosecutions went up 183 percent over the same period. And in South Carolina they went up 79 percent.

Overall, the 11 districts represented here saw a 56 percent increase in illegal re-entry prosecutions in just one year.

That’s great work and I want to thank you for that.

But we still have a lot of work to do.

The unemployment rate under President Trump just fell below four percent.  We have some signs that wages are rising.  And already we can hear some in the business community are whining about it.

A little more than a month ago, ICE arrested 97 immigrants who were allegedly here illegally at a meat-processing plant in Eastern Tennessee.

I’m not shedding any tears if a business in Tennessee or Massachusetts or anywhere in America can’t hire illegal aliens.  You don’t get to benefit from being in this country and then look all over the world to recruit your workers.  If you can’t find legal workers in the United States, then maybe you should increase your wages.

We have tolerated and winked at the illegality in our immigration system for far too long.  It’s time that we put ourselves on the path to end illegal immigration once and for all.

And, that will be one step towards reducing crime.  And it will build on the centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy: Project Safe Neighborhoods, or PSN.

Here’s how it works.  I want our U.S. Attorneys to target and prioritize prosecutions of the most violent people in the most violent areas.  And I’ve directed that they engage with a wide variety of stakeholders – our state and local law enforcement partners, as well as others like community groups and victims’ advocates – in order to identify the needs specific to their communities and develop a customized violent crime reduction plan.

This approach has been proven to work.  One study showed that, in its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent. 

PSN has the flexibility necessary for it to work in every district.

PSN is going to build on the results we have achieved across America over the past year.

In 2017, the Department of Justice brought cases against the greatest number of violent criminals in a quarter of a century.  We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade.  We convicted more than 1,200 gang members.

We have already charged hundreds of people suspected of contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis—including more than 150 doctors for opioid-related crimes.  Sixteen of these doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally.  Our Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces have also indicted more than 6,500 defendants in opioid-related investigations and forfeited more than $150 million in the past year.

From 2016 to 2017 our fentanyl prosecutions more than tripled.  And in the past month and a half, the DEA has seized nearly 200 pounds of suspected fentanyl in cases from Detroit to New York to Boston.  Fentanyl is 50 times as powerful as heroin, and it’s the killer drug. It’s got to be a priority for all of us.

All of this hard work is paying off.  There are some good signs in the preliminary data that the increases in murder and violent crime appear to have slowed and violent crime may have actually begun to decrease.  Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest further progress.

That just shows once again that law enforcement officers make a difference.  Each one of you makes your community safer.

And so I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement – federal, state, local, and tribal.  I want to thank every law enforcement officer in America.

The work that you do – that you have dedicated your lives to – is essential.  I believe it.  The Department of Justice believes it.  And President Trump believes it.

You can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.

Updated May 14, 2018