Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction, Mark. I appreciate your 26 years of service in the Fayetteville Police Department and your leadership as President of the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be with you here — and not only because it gives me a reason to get out of Washington for a day. I have visited North Carolina on personal trips with my family many times, and I always enjoy your beautiful state. More importantly, it is a privilege for me to meet with so many men and women who devote their lives to the noble mission of law enforcement.
When I took the oath of office as a prosecutor for the first time in 1990, I planned to spend just a few years in government. The mission attracted me to law enforcement, but the people who carry out the mission are what I treasure most about it. It is an honor to work with men and women like you, helping to fight crime and keep America safe.
There is a story about two police officers who pull over a car for a traffic stop. One officer walks to the driver’s side while his partner stands behind the car. As the first officer approaches, the driver rolls down the window and leans out, shaking his fist. “Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am!?” The second officer hears the ruckus and calls out, “Is there a problem here?” And the first officer replies, “Yes, it seems that this fellow doesn’t know who he is.”
Law enforcement officers can never forget who they are. After you take the oath, you are the job. You always represent your department, even when you are not in uniform.
You benefit from the reputation earned by people who served before you. Protect that reputation, and encourage others to protect it, too. That requires vigilance, and a commitment to truth and justice.
For some citizens, their most significant contacts with the government are contacts with the police. Interactions with law enforcement officers form indelible memories.
Some people fear the police, and we understand why. Police officers do not stop motorists to congratulate them for obeying traffic laws, and nobody calls 911 to report that everything is OK.
But when danger lurks or tragedy strikes, people hope to find a police officer nearby. That is why overall public confidence in the police remains high.
Modern police agencies take pride in their professional standards. They respect constitutional protections. They follow detailed policies and procedures. They hold officers accountable for misconduct. And they face unprecedented scrutiny.
Unfortunately, some people take for granted the extraordinary men and women who work in law enforcement. Some critics do not understand the challenges you face. Police officers never know what dangers the next call will bring. The work can be stressful, demanding, and frightening for officers and their families.
You work day shifts and night shifts, on weekends and holidays, in blizzards and rainstorms, during parades and riots. Your offices never close. And you always need to be at your best, especially when other people are at their worst. You are the guardians who run toward danger, so the rest of us can get away safely.
So let me take this opportunity to thank you, on behalf of President Trump and the entire Department of Justice. We understand your work. We appreciate your work. And most importantly, we support your work.
Eight weeks ago, two police officers were on a routine foot patrol at 11:00 pm in Statesville, North Carolina, when they were targeted in an ambush attack. A gunman opened fire on them from behind, launching multiple rounds in their direction. One officer was shot in the back. Fortunately, his bulletproof vest saved him from serious injury.
Thanks to good police work and support from the community, a suspect was arrested within four days. The unprovoked attack on those officers is one example of the risks you face from violent criminals with guns.
That is why President Trump’s first executive orders included specific instructions to protect law enforcement officers and to prevent violent crime.
We know that public safety depends on law enforcement officers. Attorney General Sessions ordered the Department of Justice to always consider your interests when developing our strategies. We count on you. And we want you to know that you can count on us.
We created an office in the Department of Justice to focus solely on supporting state and local law enforcement. The director of that office is Steve Cook. Steve started his law enforcement career patrolling the streets as a police officer. He now serves as the Department’s liaison to state and local law enforcement. Steve is a tremendous advocate for law enforcement officers.
More than 85 percent of law enforcement officers work at the state or local level. You are on the front lines in the noble task of keeping our communities safe.
As a result of effective policing, violent crime declined in America for many years. But violent crime started to increase in 2014. From 2014 to 2016, nationwide violent crime increased by 7 percent, and murders spiked by 20 percent.
The homicide rate rose in 27 out of the 35 largest cities in 2016 alone. Nationally, murders surged by 11 percent — the biggest annual increase since 1968.
Here in North Carolina, violent crime increased by 12 percent, rape rose by 16 percent, aggravated assault increased by 19 percent, and murder increased by a quarter in 2016.
Drug overdoses also rose dramatically. More than 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2016, an increase of 50% over 2012. The number of Americans who died of drug overdoses in one year exceeds the entire population of Chapel Hill. In North Carolina, drug overdose deaths tripled since 1999.
Those numbers represent real victims and grieving families.
They are the reason why President Trump and Attorney General Sessions made reducing violent crime and drug abuse a top priority.
Gangs play a major role in violent crime and in drug trafficking here in North Carolina and across America.
Gangs seek to profit by victimizing others. They commit a variety of crimes, such as drug trafficking, extortion, robbery, and sex trafficking. They lure sex trafficking victims with promises of profits, and instead prostitute them to paying customers. Gangs fill their coffers with illicit profits by exploiting victims as young as twelve years old. They show no mercy to innocent victims. They murder gang rivals to increase their status or to protect their turf, and they attack law-abiding citizens who get in their way. Gangs seek to live outside the law.
Officers in this room confront the reality of gang culture up close and personal. Law enforcement officers in the Carolinas are doing remarkable work to confront the gang threat.
In western North Carolina, prosecutors worked with the FBI, ATF, IRS, North Carolina State Highway patrol, and four local police departments in the Charlotte area to prosecute a total of 83 Bloods gang members. They convicted three high-ranking Bloods of racketeering in May, including a gang leader. Our team also secured life sentences for three Bloods members who murdered a potential witness in a robbery trial, as well as the potential witness’s wife. A total of 59 defendants have been convicted already.
In March, prosecutors in eastern North Carolina put a Fayetteville Bloods leader behind bars for selling crack cocaine and perpetrating violent home invasion robberies that sometimes involved torturing victims for money or information. Now he will spend 35 years in federal prison. Over the past two years, six of his associates also went to prison.
In the central part of the state, prosecutors worked with local authorities to aggressively target the Bloods gang operating in Durham. In total, 33 defendants have entered guilty pleas, including a leader who supervised gang members in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The gang members committed offenses that included drug trafficking, firearms violations, and violent robberies.
There are many other Carolina success stories. Some of the officers and prosecutors who investigated and prosecuted those cases are here today. I commend you for that important work.
The Department of Justice is working diligently to help you stay on offense against criminal gangs.
In June, Attorney General Sessions announced the largest surge of federal prosecutors in decades. We are hiring more than 300 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys, including eight in North Carolina.
And we are empowering those prosecutors to make an impact. In 2013, the Department of Justice ordered prosecutors to understate the quantity of drugs distributed by some drug dealers and to refrain from seeking sentence enhancements for some repeat offenders. Beneficiaries of that policy were not obliged to accept responsibility or cooperate with authorities. As a result, the total number of drug dealers charged each year by federal prosecutors fell from nearly 30,000 to just 22,000. During the same time period, drug-related deaths surged.
In response to the unprecedented epidemic, Attorney General Sessions eliminated the drug leniency policy and ordered federal agents and prosecutors to enhance federal drug prosecutions. To take on the drug-dealing gangs that spread violence and despair, prosecutors and agents need to use their authority to charge drug traffickers for the most serious readily-provable crime they commit, unless an exception is justified by the particular facts of a case.
Tough sentences are one of federal law enforcement’s most important tools. Used wisely, federal charges with stiff penalties enable U.S. Attorneys to secure the cooperation of gang members, remove repeat offenders from the community, and deter other criminals from taking their places.
The Attorney General instructed our U.S. Attorneys to make it a high priority to work in coordination with state and local law enforcement to prosecute violent crime and gang cases. As a result, we significantly increased the number of violent crime and firearms cases charged in federal court.
President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are focused in particular on combating MS-13, one of the most dangerous gangs in America. With 10,000 members located in at least 40 states — and another 30,000 members abroad — the gang poses a danger like few others.
To assist in our efforts to defeat MS-13, last fall the Attorney General designated it as a priority for our Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, or OCDETF.
MS-13 engages in a broad range of criminal activity, from horrific acts of violence, to human trafficking, extortion, and drug trafficking. The OCDETF program unites federal, state, and local agencies and provides additional resources to dismantle significant criminal organizations.
We will use every federal available tool to reduce crime.
But we recognize that most law enforcement occurs in agencies like yours. The overwhelming majority of American law enforcement officers are state and local. When citizens think about law enforcement, they picture the men and women in this room.
At times, federal and local law enforcement agencies are portrayed as adversaries who compete to lead investigations or to take credit for arrests. The truth is that inter-agency partnerships are essential to successfully prosecuting and locking up dangerous criminals.
Violent gangs, drug cartels, and other dangerous criminals are unconcerned with jurisdictional boundaries.
That is why the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement agencies form strong partnerships with state and local police departments.
The cornerstone of the Department’s violent crime reduction strategy is a program based on cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The program is called Project Safe Neighborhoods. We refer to it as PSN.
PSN is a proven crime-reduction strategy that encourages federal law enforcement officials to work with their state and local counterparts to take violent offenders off the streets.
The program started in 2001. It languished in recent years when the Department’s priorities shifted. Last fall, Attorney General Sessions announced the reinvigoration of PSN, and our 93 U.S. Attorneys developed plans to implement PSN throughout the country. U.S. Attorneys and federal agencies are building stronger partnerships with local and state police, prosecutors, and community leaders to implement plans tailored to local crime problems.
I know from firsthand experience that the PSN model works. It saves lives and makes communities safer.
Recent data reports show that nationwide violent crime declined in the first six months of 2017, and the increase in the national murder rate slowed significantly.
A report from the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, based on statistics reported by 65 major jurisdictions, shows 4.7 percent fewer murders in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the first quarter of last year. In addition, robberies appear to have decreased by 13 percent, and violent crime overall by 6.7 percent.
There is still more to be done, but by working together we are making progress. You can be confident that every day at the Department of Justice, we recognize the vital work performed on the front lines. We support your mission and we will always support honorable law enforcement officers.
I want to thank you for your commitment to this challenging work. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with you to make our communities safer.
Thank you for your service, and thank you for your dedication to the noble mission of law enforcement.