Thank you, Karol [Mason], for those kind words – and for your outstanding leadership as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. I’d also like to recognize Director Denise O’Donnell – and her colleagues from the Bureau of Justice Assistance – who regularly work with the dedicated men and women of OJP to help move the criminal justice field toward a fuller embrace of science and data.
I want to thank Director [B. Todd] Jones and his ATF colleagues for hosting today’s important Summit – along with Director [Stacia] Hylton, of the U.S. Marshals Service; DEA Administrator [Michele] Leonhart; Deputy Director [Mark] Giuliano, of the FBI; Director [Ron] Davis, of the COPS Office; and Principal Deputy Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Bea Hanson, for your critical efforts to strengthen law enforcement partnerships and bolster public safety across the country.
I’d like to acknowledge each of the members of Congress and leaders from throughout the Obama Administration who has taken the time to be here today. Your presence, your contributions, and your commitment underscore the power – and the importance – of the work we’re beginning this week. I have been fortunate to work closely with many of you over the course of my tenure as Attorney General. And I will always be grateful for your leadership, your friendship, and your support.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to recognize all of the United States Attorneys, local elected leaders, police chiefs, sheriffs, state and county prosecutors, and other critical partners who have come together to build this new partnership. Each of you stands on the front lines of our national fight against gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence. Every day, your efforts help to improve – and even to save – countless lives. And your tireless work lies at the heart of the innovative new initiative we’re kicking off this week – and which will enable us to take our collective efforts to a new level.
Now, as you know, my time at the Justice Department will soon be drawing to a close. But my commitment to this work will never waver. And in the months ahead, I will not slow down or let up – because a great deal remains to be done.
Today, we mark the official launch of the Violence Reduction Network – a historic, collaborative, and highly data-driven effort to prevent and reduce violence in five great communities across the country. From Chicago, Illinois, to Detroit, Michigan; from Wilmington, Delaware, to Camden, New Jersey; and in Oakland and Richmond, California – this sweeping initiative will bring together law enforcement and public safety leaders. It will enhance the Justice Department’s ability to provide strategic, intensive training and technical assistance. It will provide local officials and law enforcement executives in each of our partner communities with the support they need to advance local anti-violence strategies. And it will enable them to secure unprecedented access to a broad spectrum of Justice Department resources – empowering us to strengthen partnerships and tackle persistent challenges together.
This new, “all-hands” approach to curbing endemic violence is founded on the recognition that our efforts are most effective when all criminal justice leaders stand united. And it’s predicated on the notion that – although violent crime is in some ways a fundamentally local problem – it is not one that any community can meet in isolation.
As we’ve seen, few of the challenges you face are unique to your individual cities. On the contrary: they both exemplify and – in some cases, amplify – the challenges that other jurisdictions are facing. And if we hope to counter these evolving threats – and address the underlying conditions that most often breed them – it’s become increasingly clear that we will need to collaborate more closely, and work together more cooperatively, than ever before.
In recent years, as you know, we’ve witnessed a steady and impressive decline in crime rates at the national level. The national rate of violent crime reported to the FBI in 2012 was about half the rate reported in 1993. And in the roughly five and a half years since President Obama took office, we’ve seen decreases of roughly ten percent in both crime and incarceration rates – the first time these two critical markers have gone down at the same time in more than 40 years.
These promising trends reflect historic gains in public safety. And they have been made possible – in large part – by the visionary leadership of police chiefs, sheriffs, and federal law enforcement leaders like so many of you; the bravery of front-line law enforcement officers; and the active engagement and moral direction of community and faith-based leaders.
This progress has been significant, and it is worth celebrating. But we must not fail to account for the crucial fact – and the unfortunate reality – that not all of America’s communities have been able to share fully in these gains.
In some cities – and particularly in small sections of those cities – crime rates have remained stubbornly, and unacceptably, high. Despite the valiant efforts and the strong leadership of public safety officials at every level, there are still far too many places where social ills like poverty, unemployment, and widespread lack of opportunity continue to trap people in lives of crime and incarceration – conditions that give rise to tense and often tragic circumstances in which systemic violence can easily take root.
This is why, just over a year ago, I launched a new Smart on Crime initiative to help address these very conditions; to strengthen the federal criminal justice system across the board; to increase our focus on proven strategies for disrupting violence and getting people back on constructive paths; and to bring criminal justice leaders together to find a way to end, once and for all, the destructive cycles that devastate lives and tear communities apart.
Already, this initiative has shifted our approach to certain challenges – including low-level, nonviolent federal drug crimes – by moving the federal system away from outdated sentencing models while improving public safety and holding dangerous criminals rigorously to account. Going forward, this approach shows tremendous promise for bringing about significant, and potentially transformative, positive change. And that’s why, today – with this Violence Reduction Network – we’re taking additional action to complement the Smart on Crime initiative and amplify the work that’s underway.
About a year ago, the President convened a meeting at the White House with 18 mayors to discuss strategies for reducing youth violence. Following that meeting, I sat down with mayors and police chiefs to talk about how the federal government can better support local efforts. The Violence Reduction Network will address many of the concerns I heard – including the need for increased coordination and ready access to Justice Department resources.
I know all of you are here this week because you share my grave concern about isolated areas – in cities and towns throughout America – where violence remains all too prevalent. Where pockets of disillusionment, displacement, and danger interrupt the progress and prosperity we’ve seen at the national level. And where, day in and day out, local leaders and police officials work tirelessly – but often against long odds – to build safer communities for local residents and turn back the tide of violence.
I understand well just how difficult, and how seemingly-intractable, these and related challenges can be – because, like you, I’ve faced many of them myself. During my tenure as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, in the 1990s, Washington was a city in crisis. Some even called it the “murder capital” of the United States. And although we’ve come a long way in the years since then – by establishing strong community policing initiatives, by forging close partnerships between law enforcement and local leaders, and by expanding economic opportunities for D.C. residents – every step forward has been hard-won. Progress has not been uniform. And like so many others, this city continues to face persistent crime problems that are common to many urban centers across America.
Addressing these problems; reducing the incidence of crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, and drug trafficking; reversing an overall decline in the quality of life; and repairing sometimes-strained relationships between law enforcement and local residents – each of these tasks is a tall order to say the least. All of them require the unqualified commitment of civic leaders and the devotion and energy of community activists – the same kind of commitment, devotion, and energy that all of you are already showing. But they also demand a unifying collective vision – one that’s both conceived and carried out at the local level, with strong and steadfast support from federal officials.
This is one of the reasons why, on Saturday – as part of the Administration’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative – President Obama announced a new My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge – which will encourage cities, counties, and tribal nations to implement coherent “cradle to college and career” strategies for improving life outcomes of all young people, including boys and young men of color. This effort is broad in scope. But it’s not only relevant to the anti-violence work we begin today – it’s based on the very same recognition that underlies the Violence Reduction Network: that there will never be an effective substitute for the experience, the leadership, and the guidance that local officials and community partners are uniquely positioned to bring to crime challenges.
Washington simply does not have – and cannot offer – a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems that communities face. But the federal government can – and, in fact, must – play an important role in making local solutions more easily attainable: by providing the very latest tools you need to get the job done. By offering cutting-edge training and technical assistance to those who are serving on the front lines. By making available the information-sharing capabilities – and the rigorous research and sound data – that local officials can apply to local challenges. And by leveraging relationships with experts and other community leaders throughout the nation – thus building a strong and cohesive network of public servants whose knowledge and experience can inform and augment our efforts on the ground.
After all, the bottom line is that the Justice Department’s primary responsibility – and the cause that unites everyone in this crowd today – are one and the same. All of us stand together in our commitment to protect the American people from violent crime in all its forms. And this week, with the launch of our Violence Reduction Network, we are translating this firm commitment into a sustained strategic effort.
For our part, the Department of Justice is devoting its wealth of resources to help advance this collaborative work in each of the five Network communities. Our U.S. Attorneys will serve as your partners on the ground, providing both a federal field presence and ready access to the assistance and support you need. Meanwhile, my colleagues on the department’s senior leadership team – some of whom you’ll be hearing from this week – will serve as your advocates here in Washington, helping to keep doors open and lines of communication clear; listening to your concerns and responding to your individual needs.
Know that, at every turn, we stand ready and willing to help streamline, to facilitate, and to cut through red tape. And we are pleased to offer you the services of a corps of highly-experienced and nationally-recognized criminal justice professionals to serve as Strategic Site Liaisons in each of our five communities. These dedicated individuals will help ensure that every site receives appropriate training – and closely-tailored technical assistance – that is both strategically-focused and complementary of the violence reduction efforts that are already underway.
Of course, this robust support – and these significant federal assets – are not being offered in isolation. They must be matched by the diligent work of valued partners and other key stakeholders in every location that’s been selected to participate in the Violence Reduction Network. Fortunately – thanks to the leaders in this room and your colleagues back home – this is something that has never been in question. And we are already seeing just such a commitment in all five of our Network sites – where outstanding, dedicated, and truly impressive violence reduction teams are hard at work as we speak.
In fact, I can announce today that the Justice Department will also take additional action to support a large number of local law enforcement agencies across the country, including some of the cities represented here. Under the leadership of Director Ron Davis, our COPS Office will be providing nearly $124 million in new grants to support the hiring and retention of 944 officers at 215 agencies and municipalities throughout America. This total includes funding for officers in Chicago, Camden, and Oakland. These targeted investments will help to address acute needs – such as high rates of violent crime – funding 75 percent of the salary and benefits of every newly-hired or re-hired officer for three full years. And the impact of this critical support will extend far beyond the creation and preservation of law enforcement jobs. It will strengthen relationships between these officers and the communities they serve, improve public safety, and keep law enforcement officers on the beat.
As all of these comprehensive, cooperative efforts unfold, I am confident that – by working together – we will be able to reach our individual and collective public safety goals. We will continue to see crime and violence recede in our communities. And we will bring about the gains that our citizens need and deserve.
This progress may not be swift or smooth. It may unfold in fits and starts. And I’m certain that we will encounter both successes and significant challenges along the way. But we must always remember that none of us is alone in this work. We will have built-in checkpoints and other ways to assess our progress – and to identify changing needs – so we can ensure that every site is getting the support it requires. And so long as we remain focused on our goals – so long as we resolve not to lose heart, or to lose sight of our objectives, even when the going gets tough – I believe we can all be confident in where this effort will take us from here.
I look forward to working with each of you to meet the challenges, and overcome the obstacles, that undoubtedly lie ahead – no matter where our individual paths may take us, or in what new capacities we may contribute. I will always be proud to count you as colleagues and partners. And I am eager to see where all of you will help to lead us in the months and years to come.