Thank you, Assistant Chief Bryant, for those kind words; for your leadership as First National Vice President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; and – most of all – for your exemplary service to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police over the past three and a half decades. I’d like to congratulate you on your upcoming installation as NOBLE’s next President. And I’d particularly like to thank President Ship, Interim Executive Director Akers – and NOBLE’s entire executive board and staff for their stewardship of this organization’s critical mission, and for all they’ve done to bring us together for this important annual training conference and exhibition.
As a result of your leadership, especially in recent years, NOBLE has made great strides in expanding its reach – and rallying new allies, supporters, and partners to the cause of ensuring equity, accountability, and fairness in the administration of justice – for communities both large and small – across the country. As the “conscience of law enforcement,” you’ve consistently lent your collective voice – and played an indispensable advocacy role – in advancing opportunity and promoting diversity at every level. As public servants on the front lines of our nation’s struggle against crime and violence, you’ve proven your dedication to the highest standards of integrity – and your commitment to the citizens you’ve sworn to protect. And – in the sacrifices you make every day you wear the badge; the threats you face as you work to ensure public safety; and the selfless actions you routinely take to improve – and even save – the lives of those around you – you’ve demonstrated a relentless drive not merely to make arrests or facilitate successful prosecutions – but to achieve, as this organization always has, “justice by action.”
That’s why it’s such a privilege to be with you this afternoon in Little Rock – and a pleasure to be among so many old friends, close colleagues – and, of course, all of this year’s distinguished award winners and scholarship recipients. I am honored to join NOBLE members from across the country in congratulating each one of you, and celebrating your remarkable achievements. And I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone in this room for your service to the American people, your engagement with one another, and – especially – your steadfast partnership with our nation’s Department of Justice, as we move to confront the challenges – and seize the possibilities – that lie ahead. On a personal note, I want to say thanks – this organization and its members have had my back, in recent weeks and always.
This conference presents an important chance to explore new ideas, to share knowledge and expertise, and to formulate recommendations on what each of us can do to improve the relationships between law enforcement officials and the communities they serve. It’s an occasion for reflecting on the progress that NOBLE has helped to bring about over the last three and a half decades, and seeking ways to carry these efforts into the future. And it’s a time to recommit ourselves to the fundamental promise that has always animated America’s law enforcement professionals – the promise enshrined not just in this organization’s mission, but in our nation’s founding documents: the pursuit of “equal justice under law.”
This was the singular ideal that – more than half a century ago, just a short distance from where we gather today – led a group of nine courageous African-American students to brave bigotry and threats of violence in order to realize the spirit of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board decision, and integrate Little Rock Central High School. It was the driving force behind the efforts of pioneers and ordinary citizens alike, who, throughout the last century – here in Arkansas and across the country – risked and too often gave their lives to ensure civil rights, and equal protection, for every American – regardless of race, creed, or color. And it was the shared vision that – in 1976 – brought together a group of concerned, frustrated, but ultimately hopeful law enforcement executives, and drove them to found an organization that would strive to translate their beliefs – and their values – into concrete action.
Since that moment, NOBLE has helped lead the fight to protect the American people from crime and violence, to secure our communities, and to make certain that all citizens have the chance to improve their lives and fulfill their dreams. From its earliest days, this organization has been a force for innovation in increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of law enforcement practices, while calling attention to the needs of those who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Over the years, you’ve worked tirelessly to expand community outreach and training, to provide mentoring and scholarship opportunities for our nation’s young people, and to secure the rights of the most vulnerable among us.
I know I speak for my colleagues and counterparts at every level of the Justice Department – and across the Obama Administration – when I say I’m profoundly grateful for the contributions you’ve made – and the innovations you champion on a daily basis. Despite the many obstacles – and historic budget challenges – we’ve all faced in recent years, law enforcement executives have proven your capacity for positive results, and your ability to stretch every precious taxpayer dollar.
There’s no question that NOBLE has much to be proud of. Yet we must also recognize that – for all the progress we’ve made, and despite the extraordinary work that so many of the people in this room are leading – troubling inequalities persist, significant challenges remain, and crime – particularly violent crime – continues to afflict too many communities and steals too many young lives. That’s why – in addition to celebrating all that you have achieved in the last year – this afternoon, I’m here to reaffirm the Justice Department’s commitment – and my own – to encouraging diversity across your ranks, protecting your safety, and supporting and strengthening your work in every way possible.
For me, this work has always been much more than a professional obligation. It is a personal priority. As Attorney General, and as the brother of a retired Port Authority officer, I’ve come to understand the sacrifice, and the valor, that characterizes the work of our law enforcement leaders. I’ve witnessed the tremendous impact that your efforts can have. And I am proud of all that my colleagues and I are doing to provide the support that so many departments desperately need – and of our efforts not only to keep officers on the beat, and help them do their jobs more effectively – but even to expand law enforcement employment opportunities for veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As part of this Administration’s commitment to get Americans back to work – and the President’s determination to stand with military service members and returning veterans – I am pleased to report that, since 2009, the Community Oriented Policing Services – or COPS – Hiring Program has awarded a total of $1.5 billion to create or protect 7,000 jobs in local law enforcement. This year alone, the Justice Department will distribute over $111 million in grants to save or create jobs for roughly 800 officers across America – including nearly 200 who will be saved from layoffs, and more than 600 military veterans who will be hired as new law enforcement officers.
Through this type of direct assistance – and thanks to other funding streams made available under flagship grant programs like Byrne-JAG – we’re working comprehensively to save jobs, to help close budget gaps, and to expand access to the resources you need. When it comes to issues like procedural justice, we’re shining a light on the latest cutting-edge research. We understand – as all of you do – that public confidence in the fairness of law enforcement activities and operations can increase the likelihood that community members will accept legal outcomes, comply with the law, and even assist in investigations. That’s why we’re making efforts to highlight effective community outreach efforts – and to help local officials ensure that all Americans are treated fairly in the eyes of the law.
It’s also why we’re striving to promote the kinds of evidence-based strategies, programs, and information-sharing tools that can enable authorities at all levels to analyze and share the practices best suited to addressing specific crime problems. Through our Officer Safety Working Group – an initiative led by the Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the COPS Office – we’re providing a platform for studying crime trends and disseminating critical information among policemen and women on the front lines. We’re making it easier to target crime “hot spots,” neutralize threats, and identify suspects before making contact. And – as I announced just yesterday – in cities like Philadelphia and Oakland, we’re demonstrating our ability to “surge” federal resources in response to alarming increases in local homicide rates – and working with local leaders to build capacity, gather and analyze intelligence, and even help plan and execute sophisticated law enforcement operations.
Beyond these efforts, the Department also has taken a lead role in increasing officer safety by administering a groundbreaking program known as the VALOR Initiative – which was launched in 2010, and is designed to help prevent violence against law enforcement officers and increase officer resilience and survivability by providing training in techniques for identifying, approaching, preventing, encountering, and neutralizing violent confrontations – including ambush-style assaults. Since its inception, more than 5,200 law enforcement professionals have received VALOR training in 33 sessions nationwide. As a result, it’s clear that the Department’s commitment to turn back the tide of violence – and meet increased threats with renewed vigilance – has quite simply never been stronger.
For over a decade, our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program has been providing equipment that’s critical in preventing injuries and fatalities among policemen and women – and the National Institute of Justice has helped ensure that this equipment meets the highest industry standards. Last year alone, we awarded more than $24 million to help nearly 5,000 different jurisdictions purchase more than 188,000 protective vests. And these investments are already proving their worth. Throughout 2011 – and in the first six months of this year – the lives of at least 47 law enforcement and correctional officers were saved by bullet- and stab-resistant vests. At last count, 24 of those individuals were wearing protective vests purchased – in part – by federal funds administered through this program.
Block by block, city by city, and department by department – we’ve shown that, together, we can make a powerful difference. Despite extraordinary budget constraints and increasing demands, NOBLE members have proven that it’s possible to do more with less. Through deeper engagement with the Department of Justice, and in close partnership with a wide range of federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders across the country, I’m confident that NOBLE will continue to lead the way in devising and implementing new approaches for combating violent crime, keeping criminals off the streets, and reducing illegal gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled activity.
Of course, none of this ever has been – or ever will be – easy. And as we come together today, there’s no question that many of the challenges we face are unique – and even unprecedented. There’s no denying that evolving threats, and unforeseen obstacles, will continue to throw up roadblocks to our continued success.
But, especially this afternoon – as we look toward the future we must build; as we recommit ourselves to the ideals that have always guided this organization; and as we lift up the enduring principles that underlie our criminal justice system, drive our pursuit of equal justice, and once rallied this community, and this nation, around those brave “Little Rock Nine” – I firmly believe there’s no goal that’s beyond our reach, and no achievement that can elude our grasp. I am deeply grateful for your continuing dedication to public service and civic engagement. I am honored to count each of you as a colleague – and a critical partner – in taking our joint efforts to a new level. And if, as they say, what’s past is prologue – then I am certain that there’s good reason for confidence in where your efforts must – and surely will – lead us in the months and years ahead.
Once again, thank you for all that you do – and for the opportunity to be with you this afternoon. I look forward to working with you in the months and years to come. Thank you.