Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Karol [Mason], for those kind words, and for all that you and your team at the Office of Justice Programs do to support our criminal justice professionals and to keep our cities safe.
I’m delighted to be joined today by a number of Justice Department leaders and staff, beginning with our outstanding U.S. Attorneys – Gregory Haanstad, Kenneth Polite, and Richard Callahan. It’s great to see all of you.
Let me also thank our terrific colleagues from the FBI, DEA, ATF, and the U.S. Marshals Service – all critical members of the Violence Reduction Network. I’m glad to have you with us.
I want to recognize the leadership and staff from our Office of Justice Programs who help spearhead this effort, as well as all the strategic site liaisons and program and law enforcement champions who are part of this work. Thank you all for everything you do to keep this network on the path to success.
And most importantly, I want to thank our partners from communities around the country – the police chiefs, sheriffs, state and county prosecutors, and other critical partners who have joined us here today. I admire your commitment to the safety of your cities, and I’m grateful to each of you for being a part of this important collaboration.
Everyone in this room is committed to doing everything we can to work with you to build safe communities.
Just as there is no single cause for violence, there is no single way to build safer communities. But we do know that we can’t arrest our way into safer communities, and we know that we can’t address violent crime without addressing the social conditions – poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunity-- that allow it to take root. At the Justice Department, we are taking a three-pronged approach to reducing violence—a strategy that incorporates prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation. Ideally, we will stop crime before it happens. When it does happen, it's important that we swiftly identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. And once those perpetrators have served their time, we must equip them with the tools they need to reenter as productive members of society. Each prong supports the other.
The Violence Reduction Network takes a similarly holistic approach, and it does it in a targeted way without costing a lot of money or involving a lot of bureaucratic red tape. In a nutshell, we give each city two people: a highly experienced law enforcement strategist and an expert in grants. These two people come in and help assess the main drivers of violent crime in that city, then work with the city to put together a strategy to combat it. The law enforcement strategist pairs the local police department with those resources that best serve their crime-fighting efforts, whether it’s the operational expertise of agents at FBI, DEA, ATF, or the Marshals service, or the training and technical assistance of the COPS Office or the Office on Violence Against Women. The grants expert finds and applies for grants in the areas where resources are most needed. Together, this highly capable team works with the city to tangibly combat and reduce violent crime. And so far, our experience shows that this targeted partnership works.
It has been only a year-and-a-half since we launched the first Violence Reduction Network in six cities: Camden, Chicago, Detroit, Wilmington, Oakland and Richmond, California. In just that short period of time, the partnerships we have built through VRN have helped to reduce the crime rates in these cities. For example, domestic violence homicides in Detroit have dropped 35 percent since city officials began tackling this problem as part of their VRN strategy. And thanks to a new unit in the Wilmington police department, homicide clearance rates in that city have gone from 10 percent to almost 50 percent in just over a year. These are impressive results that could only have happened through the kind of creative collaboration promoted through the VRN.
Because VRN was so successful in the first year, last September, we expanded to five additional cities – Compton, California; Flint, Michigan; Little Rock, Arkansas; West Memphis, Arkansas; and Newark, New Jersey. These sites only recently emerged from the planning phase, but they are already forming strong alliances and developing sound, sustainable anti-violence strategies.
For example, Compton has already decided to target its efforts at human trafficking and outstanding arrest warrants. Our site in Flint is working with graduate students at Michigan State University to improve the city’s crime analysis capability, and – thanks to the digital imaging and video response team training from the FBI – police are identifying and apprehending suspects who previously eluded them.
I’m excited to see the progress these cities, as well as the six we started with, will make over the next year. Because VRN is proven to work. It reduces crime – in a targeted and efficient way shaped by experience, expertise, and coordination.
Indeed, it is because of this success that our already taxed Office of Justice Programs is expanding VRN to our third group of cities -- Milwaukee, New Orleans, and St. Louis. We are honored that you all, the law enforcement leaders and prosecutors from these three cities, have joined us here in Washington. We’re so happy to have you all as part of the Violence Reduction Network, and we stand ready to support you in any way we can.
Now there also are communities around the country who may not need the full VRN, but also have specific problems or questions for which our experts can provide assistance. For those cities, OJP offers its diagnostic center. The diagnostic center employs specialists that help cities identify and address one particular safety or criminal justice challenge affecting their community, then provides a customized work plan to tackle the issue. In recent years, the diagnostic center has helped cities like Durham, North Carolina; Gary, Indiana; Rockford, Illinois; Youngstown, Ohio; Macon, Georgia; and East St. Louis, Illinois. Today, I am excited to announce that in 2016 we are significantly expanding this program to provide issue-specific support to additional cities across the country.
We all recognize that reducing violent crime will ultimately require more than dedicated leaders and bright ideas—it also takes resources. And the Department of Justice will continue to do everything we can to provide the tools and funds that cities need to combat violent crime. For example, under a brand new initiative called the Police-Prosecutor Partnership, we are soliciting proposals to encourage out-of-the-box collaborations between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices. We’re looking for ideas that build on evidence-based crime-fighting models – focusing on reducing violence, sharing intelligence, and engaging the community – all by merging and maximizing the expertise of our law enforcement officers and prosecutors.
But even with the resources, training and collaboration that are essential components of the VRN, I know we have our work cut out for us. There is much to be done to make our country safer and more secure – not just in the VRN cities, but in every community across the country. The challenges are substantial. The answers are not always obvious. But looking around this room, I am confident that we will succeed. Our success may not be immediate, and at times the progress may be difficult to see. But as long as we remain focused on our goals, and stay true to our mission, we will overcome whatever obstacles we inevitably encounter.
Our greatest asset is our ability to work together. By bringing together the very best of federal, state, and local actors, we can develop solutions that no one entity could produce on its own. These partnerships will be crucial in the months and years ahead. I hope you use the rest of your time at this summit to cultivate those relationships – to listen to each other, to learn from each other – so that we can all improve the work that we do back home.
I want to thank all of you for your dedication and commitment to ensuring the safety of our fellow citizens, and wish you luck in the task before us. I am excited about everything we can accomplish together.