Good morning. It’s an honor to have received an invitation to address your Major Cities Conference, and I want to thank Ed Mullins and the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association and the San Jose Police Officers Association as well. I am sorry that I am unable to be there in person, but I want you to know that the Justice Department and I are in your corner. The way I see it, everyone in law enforcement is on the same team.
I am proud to serve alongside Attorney General Barr in an administration that so strongly supports law enforcement’s efforts to fight crime. When President Trump took office, our country was faced with increasing violent crime rates. From 2014 to 2016, nationwide violent crime went up by seven percent, and murders went up by a shocking 21 percent. So one of the President’s first executive orders to the Department of Justice instructed us to take steps to reduce crime and give you the support and tools you need to protect our communities. And we have done that.
This Administration appreciates that the way to fight crime is not to micro-manage police departments, but instead is to focus on the criminals. That is why late last year the Department issued new principles and procedures with regard to consent decrees with State and Local Governmental Entities. I am happy to report that these new guidelines respect you and the unique roles of our state and local governments under the Constitution.
In 2017, to start to reverse the previous trend line of the crime rate, the Justice Department reinvigorated the Project Safe Neighborhoods program. PSN is built on the idea that those in Washington don’t have all the answers. Instead, each United States Attorney 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. PSN works because of its emphasis on partnerships with law enforcement professionals like you.
Part of our nation’s crime problems stem from illegal drugs. Having failed to deal adequately with this in the past, we are now confronted with a death toll from opioids alone that is higher than we would sustain in a major war. I am pleased that you will be hearing from a member of my staff, Amanda Liskamm, who will be speaking with you about the Justice Department’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. We declared this crisis a national emergency and we are using every tool available to fight back.
One key aspect of the Justice Department’s response to the opioid crisis is Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge, which is built on the principle that crime can be reduced by fully enforcing the law. That has already yielded significant results. In just over a year, we have initiated investigations that have led to well over 100 indicted defendants and destroyed many of the complex narcotic distribution pipelines that were pumping poison into our communities.
Nationwide, however, our efforts to fight crime are being disrupted by certain state and local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement, particularly so-called “Sanctuary cities” for violators. We need to put public safety first, including the safety of our law enforcement personnel. And that is why we are concerned with a new kind of problem: the emergence in some cities of District Attorneys that style themselves as “social justice” reformers, who undercut the police and refuse to enforce the law. The Attorney General and I are concerned that those cities are headed back to the days of revolving door justice by implementing policies that don’t work, only to end up with more crime and more victims. We can’t let that happen. We must not forget about the victims of crimes.
Now, while we face many challenges, I want you to know how much we respect and appreciate the work you do to keep us safe. As law enforcement professionals, your days are already long and hard. Your nights are already tough and often sleepless. We can never fully repay you and your families for your sacrifices.
But the Department of Justice wants to help ensure that police officers return home safely at the end of every shift. That’s why we’re proud to sponsor programs like the VALOR initiative, which provides no-cost training to help law enforcement professionals stay physically and mentally prepared for whatever comes your way. Since 2016 alone, the Department has provided nearly 13 million dollars in funding to train over 50,000 officers across the nation to improve your safety and wellness. Last year we also achieved significant improvements to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program. Our law enforcement professionals deserve these benefits, so we removed barriers to their receiving them. Likewise, we expedited pending claims from the first responders who bravely sacrificed their own wellbeing to save the lives of others during 9/11.
So here is the good news: Last week, the FBI released its 2018 crime statistics and for the second consecutive year, the number of violent crimes nationwide decreased when compared with the prior year. In 2018, the violent crime rate decreased 3.9 percent from 2017, and the rate for nearly every violent crime offense decreased as well! I am proud of the progress that we have made to fight crime together, especially to reverse the 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.
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.