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Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at the Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference


Kansas City, MO
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction, Tim (Garrison), although I prefer a shorter biography. They swore me in as a prosecutor in December 1990, and they haven’t sworn me out yet. That is really all you need to know.

The truth is that I planned to spend a few years in government, then join a law firm and earn a lot more money. But something changed my plan. The mission attracted me to law enforcement, but the people who carry out the mission are what I value most. It is a privilege to work with men and women like you, helping to fight crime and keep America safe.

Tim was a career federal prosecutor before becoming U.S. Attorney.  He is also Marine, and we all benefit from his discipline and sense of duty. I visited Tim’s office here in Western Missouri yesterday and heard about the exceptional work they are doing to reduce violent crime.

I also visited the Kansas U.S. Attorney’s Office, led by Stephen McAllister, another highly respected, long-time public servant. Stephen’s office also works diligently to fight crime.

I appreciate the support that our local U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and our Department of Justice headquarters provided for this conference. I also want to thank the honor guard from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office for presenting the colors; as well as Reverend Miles for the invocation, Captain Kari Thompson for a stirring rendition of the national anthem, and Kansas City police chief Rick Smith for leading us in the pledge of allegiance. Thanks also are due to Chief Smith and his department for their hospitality here in Kansas City, Missouri.

The first Project Safe Neighborhoods conference I attended was more than 12 years ago. John Ashcroft was the Attorney General. We are very fortunate that General Ashcroft agreed to speak on Friday. He is an inspirational leader who developed the PSN model and led the federal government’s successful violent crime efforts from 2001 to 2005. The program works because it calls on law enforcement agency leaders to take personal responsibility for crime rates and to work cooperatively with other stakeholders to reduce crime. 

Another U.S. Attorney who attended that PSN conference with me more than a decade ago is now the Acting Attorney General. Matt Whitaker will join us tomorrow to speak about his commitment to this effort.

Violent crime rates fell in the early 1990s and declined for more than two decades. Some people started to take it for granted.  Maybe they started to believe that progress was inevitable. They did not realize that effective law enforcement is essential to reducing crime, and effective law enforcement requires coordination, and it requires political support.

So they were surprised when the downward trend suddenly reversed in 2014. From 2014 to 2016, nationwide violent crime increased by 7 percent, and murders spiked by 21 percent.  There was an 11 percent increase in the murder rate in 2015 alone — the largest annual increase since 1968.

The upward trend was especially pronounced in big cities. In 2016, the murder rate rose in 22 of the 34 largest cities.

Drug abuse also soared, and drug overdose death rates skyrocketed to record numbers. Meanwhile, the federal government shifted away from the cooperative PSN model. Federal agencies prosecuted fewer violent criminals and drug dealers, and the federal government’s relationships with state and local law enforcement agencies deteriorated.

President Donald Trump recognizes that protecting public safety is a primary duty of government. The preamble to the Constitution explains that its primary goals include to “establish justice” and “insure domestic tranquility.” That is because the founders of our great nation understood that liberty requires law and order. People who live in places where it is not safe to walk the streets of their own neighborhoods cannot enjoy the blessings of liberty. Rampant crime also hampers educational development and economic growth. So one of the President’s first executive orders directed us to reduce violent crime.

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions and I met with Department leaders in early 2017 and developed a violent crime initiative to achieve the President’s goal, they asked an important bureaucratic question: what should we call the new effort? Law enforcement agencies often adopt novel names for law enforcement programs.

But we knew that Project Safe Neighborhoods is a trusted brand, and it conveys exactly what we aim to do: make every American neighborhood safe. So we kept the name and rebuilt the program to meet our violent crime challenges.

The PSN program is designed around state and local law enforcement agencies, with our U.S. Attorneys and federal agencies helping to provide critical leadership and support. I am grateful that the leaders of two of our Department’s federal law enforcement agencies are here today: Tom Brandon of ATF, and Uttam Dhillon of DEA. The FBI is represented by one of its top officials, Executive Assistant Director Amy Hess, and the U.S. Marshals Service by Assistant Director Jeff Tyler.

There are 93 United States Attorneys, and most of them are in the audience. Policies are important in government, but people matter most. I have worked with a lot of federal prosecutors over the past three decades. President Trump’s U.S. Attorneys are probably the most impressive team ever assembled. You can count on their support.

The most important people here are the men and women who work on the front lines to reduce violent crime. Whether you are a prosecutor or a law enforcement officer; a researcher, prevention specialist, or community leader, we all share a common goal: to make our communities safer. 

Some people think that violent crime is like the weather; that we need to react to it, but we cannot control it.  We know that crime is not like weather. If crime is out of control, it is because people failed to control it.  But PSN is not about assigning blame for past mistakes. It is about accepting responsibility for future success in preventing crime.

The Department of Justice is delivering on the President’s commitment to reduce crime. We strengthened lawful asset-sharing with state and local law enforcement. We helped fund hundreds of police officers throughout America. We directed Justice Department components to promote officer safety and morale, and build public respect for your work.

We created the National Public Safety Partnership, enhancing federal support of law enforcement in 17 cities.  The Department awarded more than $5 million in grants to ensure that cities have the necessary technology and equipment to fight violent crime. We awarded more than $31 million in grants to support Regional Information Sharing Systems, and the Technology Support Center, which empowers law enforcement agencies nationwide with information to achieve crime priorities.

The Department created a Violence Reduction Response Center with a “hot line” to help agencies find the training and materials they need.

We also improved the capacity of forensic science providers, and we are working to improve the speed and reliability of forensic analysis. 

Most importantly, our federal prosecutors and agents are working side by side with state and local partners to identify violent crime problems in your neighborhood, and to solve them.

More than 85 percent of the country’s law enforcement officers are local and state officers. Inter-agency partnerships are essential to public safety. And sustained violent crime reductions require us to partner with local prevention and reentry programs that help deter would-be criminals from making bad choices.  We also need to develop strong partnerships with the communities that we serve. Every child in America should learn that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can rely on the police to keep them safe and protect them from harm.

PSN is built on these strong relationships.  It is not a Washington-centered program.  It is tailored to the circumstances in your community, and it is a proven crime-reduction strategy.

I know that firsthand, because I saw the program work during my tenure as a United States Attorney. It was so effective that some of our best prosecutors only wanted to work on violent crime and gang cases, because the results were so tangible. We saved lives.

We did not need research, because we watched the violent crime and homicide totals decline as a result of unprecedented coordination among our partner agencies. But you do not need to take our word for it. Academic research demonstrates that the PSN model reduces crime.

And our PSN program is more effective now than ever before.

Innovations allow us to deploy new policing tools that did not exist a few years ago.  The innovations include crime gun intelligence centers, which combine intelligence from gunshot detection systems, ballistics, gun tracing, and good old fashioned police work, to develop real-time leads about the “traffickers and trigger pullers” who fuel violence in our communities. The Department devotes significant funding to support Crime Gun Intelligence Centers across the country. 

We also improved our crime data collection and dissemination efforts, and we developed a plan to transition the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting transition to a more comprehensive National Incident-Based Reporting System.  Those improvements will provide more insight about violent crime trends, and help you develop appropriate responses. 

We also support “predictive policing,” which involves analyzing data so police can anticipate crime and preempt it.  We need to send police to disrupt criminal activity in response to data analysis, instead of just dealing with the consequences after crimes occur. 

In June, I visited Camden, New Jersey, to learn from Police Chief Scott Thomson how his department identifies potential hotspots and directs resources to cool them down. A few years ago, Camden was regularly listed among America’s most dangerous cities.  But Chief Thomson rebuilt the department to focus on crime prevention. Murders in Camden declined by 70 percent, and violent crime fell by 39 percent.

Camden police use analysis, surveillance, and engagement to predict crime, and then they intervene to stop it. Chief Thomson will speak tomorrow about Camden’s programs. I hope his insights will inspire ideas that you can take back to your jurisdictions.

New York and Los Angeles use similar predictive-policing approaches.

The NYPD monitors crime rates block-by-block. I visited the Real-Time Crime Center at One Police Plaza in Manhattan last fall.  When a violent crime occurs, the department reallocates officers immediately. That approach contributes to New York City’s remarkably low violent crime rate. 

And in Los Angeles, the LASER system uses real-time intelligence to identify the criminals most likely to reoffend.

Under the PSN model, we partner with local communities to prevent crime.  Across the country, we are making good on the PSN promise by working together to identify the most violent offenders, hold them accountable for their crimes, and prevent future violations through reentry and intervention initiatives.

The strategy works. Over the past year, federal prosecutors charged the greatest number of violent crime defendants since we started to track this category more than 25 years ago. The total surpassed the previous record by nearly 15 percent, and the previous record was just last year.

We charged more than 15,000 defendants with federal firearms offenses in the past year, 17 percent more than the previous record.

The numbers demonstrate how hard we are working, but our goal is not to maximize the number of criminal defendants. Our objective is to minimize the number of crime victims.

There is clear evidence that the strategy is working.

In September, the FBI released final crime statistics for 2017. They show declines in both the violent crime rate and the homicide rate.

Preliminary results for 2018 provide further cause for optimism.  The Brennan Center projects that the murder rate in America’s 30 largest cities will decline by 7.6 percent this year, bringing the rate back down to the 2015 level.

Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, researchers and community groups can bring down crime when we work together, with support from political leaders.  Under PSN, we are working together and using new tools that can make us even more effective.

This conference will give you opportunities to collaborate with colleagues, and to learn new strategies and techniques to reduce crime.

In a recent speech, President Trump spoke eloquently about the brave law enforcement officers who maintain law and order. He said, “In moments of danger and despair, you are the reason we never lose hope — because there are men and women in uniform who face down evil and stand for all that’s good and just and decent and right. No matter what threat you face, you never give in. You never back down. You are people of tremendous courage and strength…. Nothing can break your spirit or bend your will…. We thank you. We salute you. We honor you. And we promise you: We will always have your back.”

Our Department of Justice faithfully pursues the President’s goals with concrete actions. We are already seeing results. Crime is falling. And confidence in the police is rising. That is no coincidence.

American law enforcement officers are the finest in the world. Select any officer at random, and the odds are that you will find someone who is honorable, reliable, principled and trustworthy. And police agencies today are more professional, more sophisticated, and more effective than ever.

But policing is not for the faint of heart. You always need to be at your best, especially when other people are at their worst. You work day shifts and night shifts, on weekends and holidays, in blizzards and rainstorms, during parades and riots. Your office never closes.

Today is a National Day of Mourning to recognize the exemplary public service of George H.W. Bush. Most federal agencies are closed. But law enforcement officers are still at work. You are always at work. And you never know what danger the next call may bring.

One of my first official events as Deputy Attorney General was a memorial service for Deputy U.S. Marshal Patrick Carothers, who was murdered in Georgia in November 2016. This January, I attended the funeral of Deputy U.S. Marshal Christopher Hill, after he was killed in Pennsylvania. Last week, Deputy U.S. Marshal Chase White was murdered while executing a warrant in Arizona. And scores of local and state law enforcement officers lose their lives in the line of duty every year.

We will continue to honor their memories and support their survivors, because we understand that the freedom Americans enjoy comes at a cost.

Let me conclude with a story about two police officers who make 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, this gentleman doesn’t know who he is.”

Police officers can never forget who they are, and what they stand for.

At the Department of Justice, our headquarters is filled with works of art celebrating famous people who helped to establish the rule of law. They include heroes like Moses and George Washington. But one of my favorites is the mural of an unknown police officer. That officer represents the countless men and women who serve with honor but rarely receive the appreciation they deserve. We know who you are, and the President looks forward to joining you on Friday to express his gratitude for your sacrifices, and for your accomplishments.

It is a great honor to work with you. And it is a tremendous privilege for me to commit that the Department of Justice will always have your back.

Thank you very much.

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Updated December 5, 2018