Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, John, for that kind introduction and thank you for your leadership as president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, which is one of the oldest and most respected law enforcement organizations in America.
I want to congratulate Sheriff Layton for four decades of service in Indianapolis and for a job well done over the last year as president of NSA and congratulations as well to current vice president and incoming president Sheriff Daron Hall of Nashville, Tennessee. I am looking forward to working with you.
I also want to congratulate this year’s award winners, starting with sheriff of the year Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County, Florida. Sheriff Gualtieri worked with the Department of Justice on immigration issues and provided invaluable expertise and experience as a member of the Florida School Safety Commission — and we are grateful for that.
Congratulations also to deputy sheriffs of the year, Rich Dean of Harford County, Maryland, and Detective Cheryl Patty of Dane County, Wisconsin.
And I especially want to thank Kathleen Kunze for being here to receive the deputy of the year award on behalf of her husband Robert, who gave his life in the line of duty this past September in Kansas, dealing with a violent felon. Deputy Sheriff Kunze saved at least two lives while he was mortally wounded. He is an American hero and he will never be forgotten. Kathleen, thank you for being here. We all owe so much appreciation to the Kunze family.
It is great to be here in Kentucky. Thank you to Colonel Aubrey and to all of our Kentucky sheriffs for the hospitality.
I am especially honored to be here with nearly 800 sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies from across the country.
This is my first public speech as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, and I would not have it any other way. I am honored to speak to an organization spanning over 20,000 members across every American state and territory. I know how much all of you do each and every day to keep our communities safe. I cherish the partnership between each of you at the National Sheriffs’ Association and all of us at the US Department of Justice. This relationship has flourished for more than 75 years because of our shared mission: keeping our communities safe.
I am looking forward to working closely with all of you. As Attorney General Barr often says, law enforcement officers are all members of the same team. At the Justice Department headquarters in Washington, we bear in mind every day that the vast majority of this team serves at the state and local levels.
That is why one of our top priorities is to enhance the Department’s relationships with partners like you. We know that having engaged law enforcement officers in our local communities is absolutely crucial. So let me tell you about a few things we are doing as your partner.
Under this administration, we are not using top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions to crime.
Instead, since 2017, each of our 93 U.S. attorneys in your local communities has been directed to develop a customized crime reduction plan for their district —based on the input that they receive from state and local officials like you. We want you to tell us where the biggest dangers are in your counties — and then we’ll help you put the people who commit crimes behind bars.
We call this program project safe neighborhoods, and it is a proven strategy. Interestingly, it was modeled after a program that Attorney General Barr had created during his previous tenure as Attorney General.
One of Attorney General Barr’s first policy decisions during his second tenure as Attorney General was to order the creation of a state and local law enforcement coordination section at the department, which will be responsible for further strengthening lines of communication between all levels of law enforcement.
By remaining in constant communication, this new section will ensure your voice is always heard and regarded in Washington. By doing this, Department leadership will always be in a position to consider and heed the needs, interests, and priorities of officers like you when we craft policies and make decisions.
A large part of this partnership is ensuring you have the resources to overcome challenges in your communities. I am here to tell you today, the COPS office and our other grant making components in the Department will help to ensure your needs are met. We will shape grants and resources to support sheriffs across the country. And while I am proud to say that we’ve awarded funds to help put an additional 100 deputies in your ranks since the beginning of this administration, I hope to see that number increase once the litigation regarding the COPS hiring program has been resolved.
The examples of our partnership’s great results are numerous. This past March, the New Jersey Attorney General reported that a $2.8 million dollar federal grant provided by the Department resulted in the takedown of a major fentanyl mill in Hudson County, New Jersey, that supplied 15,000 doses of fentanyl a day and caused 84 overdose deaths. The Iowa Attorney General reports that anti-methamphetamine funding from the Department has led to the seizure of several meth labs and the rescue of 41 drug-endangered children taken into protective custody. These results, and many others like it, illustrate the success we can achieve working together to attack the criminal problems of our time.
But you need more than financial support. We all need a society that appreciates the sacrifices and dangers law enforcement knowingly confront by protecting their communities. Over the last several years, we too often saw vicious and premeditated attacks on officers, deputies, and troopers in the line of duty. These attacks on law enforcement corrode basic public safety and community respect for the law enforcement officers charged with that safety.
I would therefore like to thank your Executive Director Thompson and the NSA for helping to make the National Blue Alert Network a reality. The National Blue Alert Network is a program developed in response to the senseless murders of New York Police Department Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in 2014, who were both killed in the line of duty, and because of their duty. This Network not only helps apprehend those who would do our officers harm, but it raises public awareness of the difficulty and danger officers face every day they show up to work. By this time next month, 34 states will have adopted Blue Alert Plans – but 16 others are without these potential live saving protections. We hope others will support these efforts to make sure we obtain participation in all 50 states.
The Blue Alert Network sends an essential message: we will do everything in our power to protect those brave men and women who protect us.
And we have another message for violent criminals: I am happy to report that in the last fiscal year, the Justice Department charged the greatest number of violent crime defendants since we started to track this category more than 25 years ago —back when Bill Barr was Attorney General for the first time.
Department of Justice prosecutors also charged more than 15,000 defendants with federal firearms offenses, which is a record. They broke that record by a margin of 17 percent. What often is misunderstood about such statistics, however, is that many of these federal cases simply adopt and prosecute the great work done by state and local law enforcement in investigating and arresting the most dangerous criminals in our communities. We could not have achieved these results without the help of sheriffs all across America. Thank you.
Our efforts have produced results. In the two years before president trump took office, there was a significant nationwide increase in violent crime: the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder increased by a shocking 21 percent.
But today, under President Trump’s administration, crime rates have been falling. Homicide rates and violent crimes went down in 2017. Murders fell an additional 5.8 percent and violent crime fell an additional 4.5 percent last year in 2018. And, I am happy to report, in the first three months of this year, this downward trend has continued: once more murders and violent crimes are down even from last year.
But there remains one area in which far more progress needs to be made — and that is with regard to drug abuse. We are facing a grave situation today.
In 2017, 70,000 Americans lost their lives to drugs — more than lose their lives in car crashes.
But we all know that the toll of drug abuse is not only in lives. It is the families torn apart by these drugs and the negative effects that ripple through our communities. Drug abuse has also led to millions of property crimes and violent crimes.
So I want to stand here today and underscore again what you heard from Attorney General Sessions last year: that the Department of Justice is here with you shoulder to shoulder in this fight against the drug epidemic ravaging our communities.
Over the last two years, under this administration, we have gained ground on multiple fronts.
First of all, we have dramatically reduced the number of opioid prescriptions. Prescriptions for the seven most frequently abused prescription opioids are down more than 21 percent since 2016 — down to the lowest level in at least a decade.
Meanwhile the Department has increased its drug-prosecution productivity. The number of defendants charged with federal opioid-related crimes increased by 28 percent in 2018.
In confronting drug-related crime, another key element is the crisis at our southern border.
For four years in a row, the Drug Enforcement Administration has stated publicly that “Mexican transnational criminal organizations are the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them.” In some ways, it’s a misnomer to call it the “crisis at the border.” It gives the impression that everything is contained just a few states bordering Mexico. Not so. We all know that the crisis at the border is a driver to the drug crisis in our communities, oftentimes hundreds of miles away from the actual border.
The DEA so tells us that the majority of the heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl in this country got here across our southern border.
Having a porous southern border makes every county in America more vulnerable to these drugs — whether your county is near the border or not.
So I want to take a moment to tell you about some encouraging results from some of your fellow sheriffs at the southern border. In December, Phil Keith of our COPS office and Jon Adler of our Bureau of Justice Assistance learned about a partnership between eight sheriffs near our southern border to fight drug trafficking. By coming together, these sheriffs found the routes used by smugglers, and they have already seized tens of millions of dollars’ worth of drugs.
This success was not something to be left alone. The Department of Justice wanted to take this successful model and multiply it. Based on this success, Phil and Jon decided to partner with the National Sheriffs’ Association to create a real-time intelligence center to help other sheriffs along the border find, disrupt, and arrest drug traffickers. This is a very promising new initiative.
Sheriffs across the country are helping federal law enforcement deal with the crisis at the border as well. One prominent example is the 17 Florida sheriffs — led by our sheriff of the year, Bob Gualtieri — who reached a basic ordering agreement with ICE. These sheriffs have agreed to hold illegal aliens in custody under color of federal authority. That helps to protect sheriffs from litigation; it helps the brave men and women of ICE do their jobs, and it helps get criminals out of their counties. That was a great example of teamwork. I know Attorney General Sessions mentioned this last year, so I hope that we’ll see more of these agreements across the country.
Part of our cooperation is dealing with current crises but also looking ahead to future challenges to prevent what would be the next crisis. Through programs of the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, we keep hearing more and more from sheriffs like yourself about the challenges brought by advances in technology.
In recent years, criminals have become more and more adept at using technology to avoid law enforcement in what we call “going dark.” While “going dark” has many manifestations, some of its greatest impacts are in the areas of encryption, in assuring the security of information. But, as you well know, encryption also allows criminals to frustrate law enforcement's access to evidence — even where a neutral judge has found probable cause and ordered that we have access to that evidence. Often we need that evidence to put the bad guys behind bars. Without this important information, many of you cannot get the information you need to do your jobs. Criminals of all stripes — from child exploiters to gang members, terrorists to white collar offenders — take advantage of this and stay free, victimizing more people in the process. I want you to know that we are actively working with our community partners to provide technological resources, expand national training, and expand best practice programs. I know that in the months to come, we will work together to ensure that criminals don’t stand to benefit from using encryption and other technology for malicious ends to hide their criminal communications from court-approved law enforcement.
One of my favorite parts of my job is heralding the great work all of you do. I could do it all day. If there is one reason I won’t, it is because I know that we will be in regular communication. I hope that each one of you will be certain to speak to our new State and Local Law Enforcement Coordination section. Many of you know my colleague Steve Cook. After 35 years in the Department of Justice Steve Cook recently announced his retirement. Steve is here with us this week to help transition the office of State and Local Law Enforcement Coordination section — thank you Steve.
Steve will be working with Dean Keuter from the State and Local Law Enforcement Coordination section to help stand up this important section. Dean is also here today and I know he and Steve are looking forward to connecting with all of you. With the State and Local Law Enforcement coordination section team, we intend to strengthen our partnership in accomplishing our shared mission to make our communities safer.
So as we continue to strengthen our partnership, it truly has been my pleasure to speak with all of you today. I am looking forward to many more successes with you in the months and years ahead. Thank you for the invitation to join you here today — and thank you for your service.