Remarks As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you John McNesby. It is a tremendous honor for me to join Vice President Pence before this lodge of one of the most respected law enforcement organizations in the nation. The Fraternal Order of Police was founded over a century ago with the motto "Jus, Fidus, Libertatum" – "Law is a Safeguard of Freedom." At the U.S. Department of Justice, we live by that compass as well.
So I want to raise something that some people seem to have forgotten. In the two years prior to this administration, in 2015 and 2016, there was a significant nationwide increase in violent crime, as the overall violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent, and murders went up by more than 20 percent.
Starting in 2017, we’ve been fixing that, with success. For each of the first three years of the current administration, the nationwide rate of violent crime has decreased each year. Violent crime decreased in 2017. It decreased again in 2018. And continued downward in 2019. The violent crime rate has decreased five percent and the murder rate has decreased seven percent. I am proud of the progress that all of us have made to fight crime together, especially to reverse the previously increasing national crime rates from 2015 and 2016. The fact is that strong partnerships of federal, state, and, local law enforcement can produce better results for the public we all serve.
How did we get the crime rate to trend downward? With better policies and better federal partnerships with local law enforcement. In 2017, our United States Attorneys around the nation, including my colleague Bill McSwain here in Philadelphia, each developed a customized strategy by working with state, local and tribal law enforcement to target and prioritize prosecutions of the most dangerous individuals in the most dangerous areas. Under this direction, the Department of Justice has charged the greatest number of violent crime defendants since we started to track this category more than 25 years ago. And we’ve increased federal illegal firearm prosecutions by an amazing 44 percent compared to the last two years of the previous administration. We’ve also continued to help provide funding support to our state and local partners, including another round of grants that we announced this week for 29 community policing projects.
Now, the last few weeks have been a challenging time for those of us in law enforcement. We all want a just and fair legal system, and a system with strong relationships between law enforcement and the communities we serve. And we want to ensure public safety is not compromised. And we especially want to preserve the important progress that has been made since 2017, and not go backwards. So it was very troubling to see increased violence in our major cities during the July 4 weekend, including 31 people shot and seven killed here in Philadelphia.
So I have a simple point to make: When it comes to violent crime, we can’t afford to repeat mistakes from the past, and enable an increasing rate of violent crime. We can’t accept violent crime. That doesn’t mean accepting abuses, either. But we must not diminish respect for the law enforcement professionals who protect our communities.
In particular, we need to remember that 134 law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice last year in the line of duty, losing their lives. That’s 134 officers we’ve lost. In addition, and this doesn’t get enough attention, in 2018 more than 58,000 officers were assaulted while protecting the public. Just in the past few weeks, while facing civil unrest around the nation, hundreds of law enforcement officers were injured.
So I know that the challenges you face today are more complex, more difficult, and more extensive than ever before. I know that you start your shifts each day with one purpose in mind, to keep our communities safe, and perform your duties having no idea what dangers you may face that day. In March of this year, your colleague Sergeant James O’Connor made the ultimate sacrifice when attempting to apprehend a homicide suspect. I know this pain and sorrow hits each and every one of you. On behalf of the Attorney General and the entire Department of Justice, I want to thank you for your service and your sacrifices. And, to Sergeant O’Connor’s wife and children, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and the sacrifice of your husband and father will not be forgotten.
While we face many challenges, I am here to let you know how much I respect and appreciate the work all of you do to keep us safe. So, on behalf of the Department of Justice, let me say again how much this administration respects and appreciates the brave men and women in blue. Thanks so much to all of you.