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Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks to the International Association of Chiefs of Police


Nashville, TN
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you, Tim, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for your more than three decades of service to the people of Missouri.  I have no doubt that you have made them safer.

I want to thank IACP on assembling an organization of more than 30,000 police chiefs from 150 countries to learn from one another, build relationships, and better protect those they serve.

I want to thank you all for doing that work faithfully and effectively for the last 125 years – and I look forward to the success you will have in the next 125.

I’m pleased to see that my home state of Alabama is well represented here.  Adrian, Executive Manager of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police; Chief Carpenter of Daphne, which is one of the top retirement spots in America, and Chief Cook of Mountain Brook: it is good to see you.  Thank you for keeping Alabama safe.

I’m also happy that some members of our COPS office could join us today.  That office is a critical part of the Department’s efforts to support our state and local partners.

President Trump and I support law enforcement at all levels — and we always will.

We know whose side we are on.  We’re on the side of law-and-order.

This is an administration that listens to you and that understands this community.  We understand the risks you take and the tools you need to be effective.

The most important thing that any government does is keep its citizens safe, and that’s what you do every single day.

You are the thin blue line that stands between law-abiding people and criminals – between sanctity and lawlessness. 

I know the importance of the work that you do.  I know its dangers, challenges, frustrations, and satisfactions.

We are all in this together.

During my almost 40 years in and around law enforcement, I have come to understand that we must see the criminal justice system as a whole. 

From our police officers and our police chiefs to our sheriffs, state law enforcement and forensic departments, to our local and state prosecutors, our judges and juries, to our prison system and to our probation and parole officers, we are one system. 

We have different roles, different laws, different lines of authority and different funding sources, but we are united in one effort to keep law-abiding people safe.

It is the increased training, professionalism, leadership, and more effective enforcement policies of our departments nationwide and over several decades that has been the critical factor in reversing the dramatic rise in crime that we saw into and through the 1970s. 

Over 22 years we saw homicide rates fall by half, youth drug use fall by almost half, and violent crime fall dramatically.  It was an achievement few would have ever expected.  Lives were saved and lives were changed.

Maybe we got overconfident and took our eye off the ball, but more recent trends have become deeply worrisome.  The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent from 2014 to 2016.  Robberies went up.  Assaults went up nearly 10 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 11 percent.  Murder shot up by more than 20 percent. 

We cannot allow these trends to continue.

No one should feel like a prisoner in their home.  No child should have to fear going to school or walking the streets of their neighborhood.

That’s why the Trump administration and this Department of Justice are taking action to protect law abiding people and disarm criminals.

In recent weeks, the President has held a series of roundtables, including with law enforcement leaders, so have I. And we have listened to you.  We hear you.

It makes us better in federal law enforcement.

My experience is that when you listen to the experts, do it every day, you get good ideas.

Just last week I had about 30 people in my office for a conference, each representing officers with all the major law enforcement groups, including IACP. 

The discussion began to revolve around the problem of individuals who are mentally ill or particularly dangerous and how to handle these cases.

We have got to finally make progress on this seemingly intractable problem.  Local communities supported by the federal government have to have a system that actually delivers valuable information, with involuntary commitment options for those who are mentally ill and dangerous.  Some of these people need to be in treatment facilities, not in jails.

We need to break down the walls that exist between law enforcement agencies. We learned that lesson after the 9/11 attacks—and I’m hopeful that we will remember this lesson now, in the wake of another terrible tragedy.  Law enforcement cooperation, sharing info, saves lives.

Since the Parkland shooting, President Trump has pushed for action to strengthen law enforcement and to make this country safer from the threat of gun violence. Things are moving.

The Department of Justice has provided $1 million in emergency funding to our law officers in Broward County who have been working overtime in the wake of the tragedy.

At President Trump’s direction, we have begun the process of banning bump stocks, which in effect turn legal guns into illegal machineguns.

The Department is also providing additional funding for cities and states to hire school resource officers, and offering firearm training to officers and to school personnel alike.

Every year we help hire hundreds of police officers across America.  It’s one of the most important things that we do. 

Now we are targeting this grant funding to cities and states that want to put officers in schools.  

I have also ordered our prosecutors more aggressively to charge those who lie to the background check system in order to try to get guns illegally. 

Under my tenure as Attorney General, we have already increased federal gun prosecutions to a 10-year high and violent crime prosecutions to a 25-year high.  But we are just getting started. 

We intend to break these records again, punish more criminals who try to cheat the system, and deter many more from lying to a background check in the first place.

Our background check systems are only as good as the information they receive. 

That is also why we are holding accountable federal agencies—as well as cities and states—for providing us with the information we need to know if someone shouldn’t have a gun.

I have ordered the FBI to identify the cities and states that fail to give us the information we need in a timely fashion and to work with them to fix that.

One problem we face all too often is that the FBI will receive an arrest record, but not a follow-up with the final outcome of the case.  As a result, many people who should be prohibited from having a gun can still pass a background check.  That is dangerous, and we cannot allow it to continue.

But we are going to help the states with this process. 

We will provide funding for increasing accessibility to criminal records—especially domestic violence convictions—as well as records of firearm restrictions related to mental illness.

We will also improve the way we use the information we do have, including tips from the public.  I have ordered an immediate review of the process we use in order to ensure that we respond to these tips quickly and effectively—especially if we could potentially prevent violent crime.

The bottom line is this: we will not stand by and watch violence rise.  Plain and simple, we will not allow the progress made by our women and men in blue over the past two decades to simply slip through our fingers.  We will protect the poor as well as the rich.  We will not cede one community, one block, or one street corner to violent thugs or poison peddlers.

One of our explicit goals for 2018 is to reduce violent crime in America.

And with your help, we have been pursuing this goal aggressively.

Last year we secured the convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, and we helped our international allies arrest or charge more than 4,000 MS-13 members.

These are accomplishments that benefit us all.  And while I have inexpressible pride in our fabulous federal law officers, I am fully aware that 85 percent of all law officers are state, local, and tribal.

We cannot succeed without you.  It’s that simple.

We want to be a force-multiplier for you.  We can reach defendants where you can’t—across state lines, across our borders, and even across oceans.  And we can provide you with expertise and intelligence that can help you succeed.

That is why I am pleased that IACP has worked so closely with us on the Collaborative Reform Technical Assistance Center—which will provide training, advice, and expertise for law enforcement officers across America.

This technical assistance center is in good hands.  I want to thank the International Association of Chiefs of Police for their leadership and for bringing together an impressive coalition of law enforcement leaders and experts, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, FBI National Academy Associates, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Training and Standards, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

This new model puts law enforcement agencies in the driver’s seat and provides support, resources, and assistance by using this “by the field, for the field” model.  It fulfills my pledge to respect local control and accountability, while still delivering  tailored technical assistance. 

I believe that will be of great benefit to the field and help improve public safety, prevent crime, and help both law enforcement and communities in need of these resources.

We will continue to invest in you. 

After all, our mission is not hopeless.  Crime rates don’t go up and down like the tides.  Together we really can make a difference.

I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation  to all the women and men of law enforcement – federal, state, local, and tribal.  I want to thank every chief of police in America, as well as our international partners.

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 March 16, 2018