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Roanoke, Virginia

Remarks as prepared for delivery

It’s an honor for me to be here with more than 200 law enforcement officers from Virginia.  You represent the thin blue line that protects our families, our communities, and our nation.  You run toward danger when everyone else is running away from it. 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 sacrifice your personal safety, time with your families, and so much more all for the cause of justice.  On behalf of the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office, thank you for all you do.  We understand your work. We appreciate your work. And most importantly, we support your work.

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.  We hope that this conference will allow you to share your experiences, strengthen your partnerships, and enhance your ability to protect national security and prevent terrorist attacks.

The threats we face in the Western District of Virginia are always changing. For evidence of this, look no further than the events in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12.  The news reports coming from Charlottesville indicate that large numbers of individuals traveled from places outside of Virginia, including Ohio, New Hampshire, and Georgia, for the purpose of inciting violent confrontations. That violence resulted in the unfortunate deaths of three of our citizens – two Virginia State Police pilots, Lt. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke Bates, who died when their helicopter crashed while providing air coverage of the violence; and Heather Heyer, a citizen who was killed while simply exercising her First Amendment Right to peacefully march in protest.  Our condolences go out to the families of these heroes.

The Charlottesville incident teaches us that if we want to prevent attacks, we need to be vigilant.  The key is to collect all available information and generate actionable intelligence to disrupt terrorists before they strike.

We must never let down our guard, because our enemies do not fight fair.  Terrorists are cowards who target unsuspecting people going about their lives — watching a sports event, dancing at a nightclub, traveling to work, walking down a street.

Since I was appointed to serve as the Acting United States Attorney on January 7 of this year, I’ve taken steps to increase our ability to support our law enforcement partners.  I’ve prioritized the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s National Security and Critical Incident Response program.  I’ve expanded and formalized our National Security/Critical Incident Response Team.  We’re conducting monthly and quarterly meetings to discuss National Security and Domestic Terrorism threats in our district and to prepare our office to deal with them. Finally, on August 28, I appointed Heather Carlton, an Assistant United States Attorney assigned to our Charlottesville branch office, to serve as the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Coordinator or ATAC.  Heather is not able to be with us today because she’s in a jury trial in Danville prosecuting one of our national security cases. However, I hope you get to meet Heather in the near future because she is an outstanding attorney and brings enthusiasm, initiative, and energy to our National Security/Critical Response program.

Of course, you all know about the violence in Charlottesville on August 12.  I can tell you that despite the criticisms of those who are predisposed to blame law enforcement or to deflect responsibility from misguided decision-making, law enforcement responded to the difficult circumstances forced upon them in Charlottesville in an outstanding manner.  Moreover, the team work of the federal, state, and law enforcement officers in Charlottesville on August 12 and afterward was a shining example of law enforcement at its best.  One take-away from Charlottesville is that coordination and teamwork among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies is critical to the success of our anti-terrorism mission.

It’s our goal and intention that this conference will serve to enhance and foster the teamwork and coordination among law enforcement that is so important to our vital mission of protecting the public from terrorism.  So, thank you all for participating in this conference. The threats we face will continue to evolve.  Our mission to keep our neighbors and our communities safe remains the same. And the bravery that you bring to that mission endures.

Thank you for taking on this challenging work. It’s an honor for me to serve with you in this important mission.

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Updated September 29, 2017