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Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Speaks
at the COPS Community Policing Conference


Bethesda, MD
United States

Thank you, Barney, for your kind words and for inviting me to join you today. I am personally grateful, and the Department is fortunate for the stewardship that you and Mary Lou provide over this critical constituency and set of issues. I applaud your consistent, diligent support for law enforcement. The resources you’ve made available – from grant programs and technical assistance, to educational publications and informational forums – evidences your commitment to offering dynamic and effective leadership in the field of policing.

I’d also like to thank each of you attending today. Public safety is a collaborative effort. The topics discussed here center around issues that have been brought to the Justice Department by those in the field, like you. We organize this conference to address these issues, with the goal of creating a productive dialogue and, together, determining next steps to implement to bring about necessary changes in policing and crime fighting.

Our main objective at the Department is collaboration. You will hear a great deal of discussion over the next two days about partnerships, and today I’d like to talk to you specifically about effective ways we can work together to address crime. As chiefs and sheriffs, officers and deputies, educators and researchers, you see firsthand the devastating impact crime can have not only on those who have been personally victimized, but also on their families and the communities around them.

I know that you also see firsthand the dream that can be lost by a child when her parent chooses a life in crime, or by a young person who decides to turn to crime, or by a former offender who makes the wrong choice and breaks the law again.

We realize that the protection of our communities, in so many ways, falls directly on your shoulders. But you are not in this alone. If there is one idea that you walk away from this conference with, I hope it will be that we at the Justice Department are your partners in this effort. Together, we will continue to take a comprehensive and collaborative approach to finding the solutions that are most effective in your communities. And in this budget climate, we are keenly aware of the need to make sure that we’re coordinating our efforts to make public safety dollars go even further.

This coordinated approach to finding solutions involves more than just enforcement -- we must also direct our efforts to prevent the occurrence of crime in the first place, provide support through intervention programs, and provide individuals reentering our communities from jails and prisons with the tools they need to successfully turn away from crime. By balancing these four legs of the stool—enforcement, prevention, intervention and reentry— together we can attain our shared goal of finding cost effective ways to make our communities safer.

Community policing is and has always been an integral part of that strategy. Community policing focuses on problem-solving and partnering with the community to address all aspects of threats against public safety. This approach gets community stakeholders involved in the work of fighting crime, builds trust between officers and local residents, and ultimately improves public confidence in law enforcement’s effectiveness and in the integrity of the criminal justice system.

And this is more than just a concept – this is law enforcement infrastructure that serves over 80 percent of the nation’s public.

Over the last three years, funding through the COPS Office has helped add over 7,000 officers to the field. As Barney mentioned earlier, just a few weeks ago, the COPS Office delivered an additional $111 million to hire new officers and protect law enforcement jobs in jeopardy. Money talks and this is a significant statement about the Department’s priorities given the current fiscal climate. We are particularly proud that 600 military veterans will be funded through this investment—an important step towards the President’s goal of opening up more opportunities for our veterans. Law enforcement is an honored profession that demands many of the same attributes as military service – character, personal bravery, and a deep commitment to public service. By adding more veterans to our police departments, we not only look after those who have put their lives on the line to protect us, we enhance those shared, valiant qualities in the delivery of community policing around the country.

In addition, funding through the COPS Hiring Program will be used to save nearly 200 jobs in jeopardy of being cut due to local budget issues. The dramatic impact the economy has had on local policing has been discussed at length. Too many local departments are still dealing with budget shortfalls, resulting in changes to their service delivery. We are making every effort, Department-wide, to continue to find ways to assist you in this challenge.

And frankly we are fortunate that this is one of the few areas of bipartisan support these days. Recent appropriations activity in the House highlights bipartisan appreciation for the COPS Hiring Program by proposing nearly $200 million for 2013. With the Senate proposing close to $250 million and the Administration asking for approximately $300 million, resources permitting, we hope to be in a position to plan an even more robust hiring program next year.

In addition to our commitment to community policing strategies and providing much-needed resources for officers and training, the Department of Justice recognizes that more must be done to ensure crime prevention. I’d like to briefly discuss three of our efforts: one focused on reducing youth violence, another on better serving the innocent children found on crime scenes, and finally, our commitment to reducing recidivism at the state, local and federal level.

The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention (the Forum) -- launched two years ago at the direction of President Obama -- brings together a network of communities, federal agencies like the Departments of Justice and Education, corporate partners and non-profit groups, along with neighborhood and faith-based organizations and youth representatives, to share information and build local capacity to prevent and reduce youth violence.  The efforts of these federal agencies maximize and leverage existing resources by sharing “what works” between federal, state and local partners.

The Forum creates a national conversation about youth and gang violence by increasing awareness and building local capacity to more effectively address the issue. We are creating a new model of federal and local collaboration, encouraging partners on all sides to change the way they do business by sharing common challenges and promising strategies - all leading to coordinated action. The Forum is currently active in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas, and San Jose, with plans to expand to additional cities soon. It also complements the Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Initiative, a Department of Justice-wide effort designed to prevent and reduce the harm caused by children’s exposure to violence.

The Attorney General also announced the launch of an online toolkit -- now available to the public -- that provides resources on how to gather and better utilize data on youth violence, identify community assets, develop measurable objectives, and create and implement your own plans.

We are also committed to better identifying and serving a vulnerable group whom we refer to as “Drug Endangered Children”. In response to the Administration’s 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, the Department established the Federal Interagency Task Force on Drug Endangered Children (or “DEC”). I am privileged to chair this important task force, which benefits from active participation from multiple components within the Department of Justice, as well as the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Interior. The DEC Task Force is committed to identifying ways to better serve and protect drug endangered children by building partnerships on the federal, state, tribal, and local levels.

Why is this constituency a priority for us? Over 9 million children – almost 13% of the child population – live in households where a parent or other adult uses, manufactures, or distributes illicit drugs. In 81% of the reported cases of child abuse and neglect, substance abuse is rated as either the worst or second worst problem in the home. And a sad fact of which you are all likely well aware— Drug Endangered Children are almost 60% more likely to be arrested as juveniles. This is a prime opportunity for prevention. Earlier interventions with these kids is not only the right thing to do—but one of our best hopes of stopping the cycles of crime.

The COPS office has been a key partner in our effort to better identify and serve Drug Endangered Children. Funding through COPS has supported the development of a CoreDEC curriculum and enabled thousands of state, local and tribal law enforcement personnel to receive DEC training. Last year, in coordination with members of the DEC Task Force, COPS helped develop a resources CD for professionals, bringing together tools created and identified by its federal partners into one, easy to use and free toolkit—which includes first responder checklists and other valuable tools to better identify and serve these kids.

In addition to preventing crime by addressing youth violence and youth who are exposed to violence and crime, we know it is critical to reduce recidivism. A truly productive conversation regarding the evolution of policing has to include prisoner reentry and practices that reduce the number of persons who enter and re-enter the criminal justice system.

We need to hold accountable those who commit crimes – especially violent offenders and those who offend repeatedly – either through incarceration or through other effective sanctions. At the same time, we know that time spent behind bars adversely affects so many aspects of a former prisoner’s life – from employment and education to housing opportunities. These things influence a person’s chances of transitioning back into our communities to become a productive, law-abiding citizen, of remaining free from crime, and of becoming a taxpayer who can contribute to our revenue bases. It also impacts their families and communities who are depending on them to become law-abiding, productive citizens.

Providing former offenders with the skills and resources they need to successfully reenter society is absolutely critical if we have any hope of preventing former offenders from again engaging in criminal conduct that not only harms victims, but also the communities around them. And part of community policing is helping to make sure that these former offenders get the help and support they need to become productive members of the community, rather than a danger to the community.

Today, some 2.3 million people – or more than 1 in 100 American adults – are behind bars in the United States. At some point, 95 percent of these prisoners will be released, meaning some 700,000 people are coming out of our state and federal prisons every year. We know that two-thirds of all released state prisoners will be re-arrested within three years, and half will return to prison; and among released federal prisoners, 40% are re-arrested or have their supervision revoked within 3 years. 

Aside from the very serious implications on public safety, recidivism impacts budgets at the federal, state, and local levels. Our Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than $74 billion is spent on federal, state, and local corrections annually. In fact, it is one of the most expensive items in any state budget. And with more than $6.5 billion spent on the Bureau of Prisons each year -- it takes up a substantial portion of the Department of Justice budget as well.  

These numbers demonstrate that our focus on reentry is critical to not only addressing issues of public safety, but also to addressing issues of economic and budget safety.  

We have much to be proud of in light of our successful efforts to prevent and respond to crime in our communities. The examples I’ve briefly touched on today demonstrate the effectiveness of the partnerships between the many organizations you represent and the Department of Justice in protecting people from crime. We need to be innovative and cost-effective in protecting victims of crime and making our communities safer. In light of our tough budgets and limited resources, we need to find ways to do these things smarter and that means doing them together. We’ve made a lot of progress – but we still have our work cut out for us. And as I look out among you, I know that this is a challenge we can take on and win. Through working together, we can make our communities safer in all the ways that matter.

Thank you for all you do to make that happen every day. Thank you for the essential role you play each of your communities. Thank you for your support for and partnership with the Department of Justice.

Updated September 17, 2014