Remarks as Prepared
Thank you, Laura, for that introduction, and good afternoon everyone. It’s great to be with you all today.
I want to begin by recognizing that this has been a particularly difficult week for the law enforcement agencies of the Department of Justice. This morning, I learned that an FBI agent was shot and wounded while assisting on a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive Task Force operation in Racine, Wisconsin. This comes on the heels of the tragic loss on Monday of a DEA agent and the severe injuries sustained by a second DEA agent as well as a task force officer during a law enforcement operation in Tucson, Arizona. Yesterday, an ATF agent was critically wounded in a shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, in the course of an investigation; and last Friday, a Deputy U.S. Marshal died as a result of a vehicle accident while assisting with a law enforcement operation in Louisiana. Their sacrifices remind all of us of the risk that all of you and law enforcement officers across this country take every day to protect the communities you serve. We owe them, and you, a debt of gratitude.
These tragedies are yet another painful reminder of what everyone in this audience knows firsthand: violent crime — particularly gun violence — has reached epidemic levels. Last week, the FBI released its final crime data for 2020, and it confirmed what those of you on the front lines see every day: that the increases in murder and aggravated assault rates between 2019 and 2020 were simply staggering: In 2020, the United States witnessed a nearly 30% increase in the murder rate – which is the largest increase in the 60 years that the FBI has been keeping records. And 77% of those homicides were committed with a firearm.
We in the Department of Justice and all of you share the same mission — keeping the people in our communities safe, and the department is committed to doing all it can to curb violent crime. But we also recognize that the lion’s share of this work falls to you and your departments, day in and day out, often laboring under difficult conditions — especially during the pandemic. It is our responsibility on the federal side to do what we can to support you. In the five months that I have been Deputy Attorney General, I have been fortunate to benefit from several conversations with you and many of your law enforcement counterparts. What I have heard time and again is that none of us will stop this rise in violent crime alone. We must work together – not only law enforcement to law enforcement – but also in partnership with the communities bearing the brunt of the violence.
In furtherance of those partnerships, I’m pleased to announce that we are expanding our National Public Safety Partnership program to help 10 additional jurisdictions facing particularly high levels of violent crime implement data-driven, evidence-based strategies based on the unique needs of their communities. This expansion builds on PSP’s work with 40 other jurisdictions since the program’s inception — providing coordinated training, focused technical assistance, and other intensive assistance. Four of the additional sites are members of MCCA — Phoenix, Louisville, Philadelphia and Aurora — and I’m glad to see you all here today either in New Orleans or by Zoom.
Our targeted enforcement efforts reflect our commitment to partnerships. Every U.S. Attorney’s Office, for example, is revamping its Project Safe Neighborhoods program to bring together law enforcement and community leaders to identify and address the most pressing violent crime problems in their jurisdiction. In July, we launched five firearms trafficking strike forces to help disrupt illegal firearms trafficking networks that too often fuel violence in our communities across the country—an effort that depends on close law enforcement coordination across state and local boundaries. Led by the ATF and designated U.S. Attorney’s Offices, those strike forces have already opened more than 100 investigations, and we are committed to continuing this joint effort until we have shut down these well-worn paths of illegal gun trafficking.
Those partnerships — and your tireless work — are already making a difference. Our joint efforts this year — and especially during the summer months — demonstrate a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication to tackling this nationwide crisis: This year, the U.S. Marshals Service has partnered with over 1,700 state and local agencies through district and regional task forces, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day, some 600 of those partners participated in a USMS targeted initiative resulting in the apprehension of more than 3,400 fugitives, including more than 1,500 wanted for murder, in addition to seizing more than 2,000 illegal firearms and nearly $10 million connected to illegal activity. The ATF embedded with homicide and shooting investigation units in police and sheriff’s departments in more than 60 communities across the country, and expanded the reach of its National NIBIN Correlation and Training Center to an additional 25 jurisdictions. ATF now provides ballistic matching services and generates leads for more than 1,400 local police departments nationwide. The FBI has partnered with nearly 2,000 state and local officers as part of its Violent Crime Task Forces and Safe Streets Task Forces, which together have confiscated more than 5,000 illegal firearms this year. Finally, the DEA has strong partnerships with state and local law enforcement – 4,600 of whom serve as DEA task force officers disrupting the activity of some of the most violent drug trafficking organizations in the country. During the summer months alone, DEA initiated more than 840 investigations with a nexus to violent crime.
Of course, the numbers tell only part of the story — and are not an end in themselves — the fundamental goal of this work is to reduce the level of violence in our communities — and we know we have more work to do on that front. Many of you have raised particular concerns about addressing youth violence and the root causes behind it. We have heard your message that, particularly during the pandemic, young people have increasingly been involved in violent criminal activity. Later this month, the department will convene experts in the field to help create a “tool kit” that will provide guidance and resources for jurisdictions seeking to implement comprehensive, community-based strategies for preventing youth violence. Starting this month, we also expect to award nearly $100 million in grants to implement intervention- and deterrence-focused strategies — through the Comprehensive Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction program, the Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence program, the Hospital-Based Victim Services program, and the STOP School Violence program.
More broadly, we’ve heard from you about the immense strain that surging violent crime has placed on your departments — both in terms of resources and on officer health and wellness. The department recognizes this toll and is committed to making sure you have the resources needed to do your jobs safely and effectively. That’s why the Bureau of Justice Assistance will award $13 million in officer wellness initiatives, and the department’s COPS Office will also award more than $7 million in funding for law enforcement mental health and wellness by the end of the year — nearly doubling our investment from the previous year.
We also know that to lessen the burden on law enforcement, many of you are launching new efforts to respond to emergency calls for those with mental health or substance use crises. Later this month, we look forward to seeing many of you at the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s national conference, Taking the Call, to explore these innovative community responder models. We’re particularly excited that one of your regional representatives and the Chief of the Wichita Police Department, Gordon Ramsay, will serve as a panelist.
In the many conversations I’ve had over the last few months with law enforcement leaders – another theme that comes up over and over again is the importance of trust and accountability with our communities. As you know, creating strong, positive ties between law enforcement and communities is critical to making us safer. Last Friday, the President issued a proclamation announcing this week as National Community Policing Week; and just this morning, the department announced that the COPS Office is awarding $33 million in grants to advance community policing efforts across the country.
Our commitment to trust and accountability is why the very first principle in our strategy to reduce violent crime is to foster trust and legitimacy in the communities we serve. We all know that trust is built on a culture of transparency and accountability, and underscored by a broader commitment to procedural justice and community policing.
Here again, our practices have been informed by what we’ve heard from our state and local partners. The department issues guidance and does training, we fund best practices – but we have a responsibility to and are at our best when we learn as well. That’s why, in June, I directed each of the department’s federal law enforcement components to develop plans specific to their unique missions to expand the use of Body Worn Cameras to their federal agents. Today, I am pleased to announce that ATF, DEA, FBI and the USMS are all now wearing Body Worn Cameras in select cities during Phase I of our implementation program.
It’s an announcement that I credit to many in this group and to many of your law enforcement colleagues who repeatedly urged the department to lead by example on BWCs. We owe you a debt of gratitude for keeping us accountable when it came to Body Worn Cameras, and keeping the department focused as we went through the policymaking process. I also want to highlight the leadership of your executive director, Laura Cooper, who polled and surveyed MCC members to help us get to a policy that met everyone’s needs. Her work and support are a big reason the policy was implemented at warp speed for the federal government.
That is not the only concrete change the department has made to our policies to reflect your feedback. Early last month, I issued the first ever department-wide directive on the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants. This brings the department in line with what many of your departments have already done.
And of course, the department will continue to work with you to promote trust and accountability in your departments, as was the case in the recent monitor reviews that we conducted with over 50 stakeholders. Following that review, the Associate Attorney General made — and the Attorney General adopted — recommendations that incorporated many of the exact principles and concerns that your departments have been raising for years, such as making sure that monitors are independent, free from conflicts, and not a cottage industry.
The department is committed to listening to you, and strengthening our partnership, because we know our goals are the same: to promote mutual trust in law enforcement as we keep our communities safe. I hope I have made clear today that the department cannot succeed in that effort without each of you and your departments.
Finally, before I take a few questions and ask some of you, I want to end with a heartfelt thank you for your continued service to our country throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and despite the additional risks the virus posed to your health and safety. The Attorney General and I recognize the tremendous sacrifices that you and your departments have made — and will continue to make — throughout this pandemic. Many of you got sick or saw family members get sick, and too many of your colleagues succumbed to COVID-19 as a result of exposure in the line of duty. This virus has had a tremendous impact on mental health and wellness, and throughout all of this, you and your colleagues have continued to answer the call of service, day in and day out. For that, I am truly grateful.
With that, I would be glad to answer any questions you all might have for me.