Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Thank you, President [Mayor Kevin] Johnson, for that kind introduction – I’m very pleased to join you here today in my role as the Acting Associate Attorney General. We have a funny way in Washington of giving titles that are puzzling to people, but you all are quite lucky because everyone knows what a mayor or a police chief does! For those who don’t know, as the Acting Associate, I am the third-ranking official at the department and I oversee the department’s Community Oriented Police Services Office (COPS), civil litigating divisions and other grant-making components, which cumulatively address a broad array of issues, including federal and local law enforcement, and public safety.
I’m relatively new to the position of Associate Attorney General, but have been with the Department of Justice since 2009. But the key point is that the department is not new to the issues that you face every day. I’ve had the pleasure over these years to work not only with Attorney General Holder, who we are very sad to see go, but also now to work with COPS Director Ron Davis. I want to personally thank Attorney General Holder for leading us at the department for the last six years and for his exemplary leadership. I also want to acknowledge Director Davis for his excellent and tireless work as well. Both of them share a passion for civil rights, as evidenced by their work in Ferguson and other places around the country to ensure that law enforcement is engaging in constitutional policing and always working to establish trust among the citizens they serve.
I also want to thank Mayor [Mark] Stodola for hosting us here in Little Rock and being instrumental in making this celebration possible today. I use the word “celebration” because we truly need to celebrate the accomplishments of the COPS Office over the last 20 years, some of which the Attorney General described earlier. Those accomplishments have had a direct impact on this state and this community: in those two decades, the state of Arkansas has received more than $127 million in COPS Office funding, with nearly $23 million of that awarded since 2009.
I would like to further recognize the strong leadership role the United States Conference of Mayors has demonstrated in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I think the hallmark of great leadership was aptly expressed by former first lady Rosalynn Carter who once said that, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” The powerful joint statement issued on August 15, 2014, by Mayors Johnson, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Annise Parker, William Bell, Michael Nutter and Francis Slay on behalf of this organization exemplifies a commitment to standing for what is right even when it is not easy. By pledging to work with member mayors and police chiefs to “identify[y] policy recommendations to address the root causes of the problems that contributed to the tragic events in Ferguson and to identify actions that can be taken in our cities and by our federal government to avoid catastrophic consequences in the future,” the Conference of Mayors signaled that it is ready to take up the difficult task of ensuring that our communities take the opportunity to grow through the response to tragedy, rather than allowing tragedy to drag them backwards. We at the Department of Justice share that commitment, and are eager to work with you to identify best practices in policing and make them a reality.
Our commitment to supporting your efforts in your cities and towns to improve the relationship between police forces and the communities they serve is personified by Director Davis and his colleagues at the COPS Office, who are dedicated to advancing public safety through community policing. The Crime Bill was passed in 1994. At that time, people most often thought of community policing as simply bike patrols or police athletic leagues. In fact, community policing is so much more than a program or line item in a budget – it’s a philosophy of how a police department should do business.
Community policing should be woven into the fabric of how a police department handles everything, from its recruitment to its response to calls for service. Many agencies represented here today know what it means to truly embrace community policing and view it not as something merely measured by the number of officers on the beat, but rather what officers are doing on that beat to improve the quality of life of the citizens they serve and investigate the root causes of crime.
That’s why I’m so honored to be here with you today to mark the 20th anniversary of the Crime Bill and acknowledge the amazing work that has come from the COPS Office since its inception in 1994.
As Attorney General Holder mentioned earlier this morning, the COPS Office brings much more to the table than just the hiring of officers. It has an expansive portfolio of training and technical assistance initiatives that benefit not just those agencies that receive grants; the entire law enforcement field can take advantage of those resources.
And the COPS program has helped to lead real change over the past 20 years. When the COPS Office was first established, the number of law enforcement agencies in the country estimated to be practicing community policing numbered in the hundreds. By 1997, the self-reported number had swelled to 9,000. And now, the vast majority of police departments across the country trains their officers in and employs a wide variety of community policing practices. You’ve already heard much today about the widespread success of community policing and the vast progress made by the law enforcement field in embracing this philosophy.
But at this anniversary, in the face of such success, some have posed the question – if community policing is no longer a new or groundbreaking idea for law enforcement, and if it’s a well-established part of the daily operations of most policing agencies, then what can communities around the country gain from continuing to work with the COPS Office in this decade and beyond?
And the answer is that, as far as the field has advanced in this area, there’s still much work to be done in institutionalizing community policing so that partnerships and collaboration and analytical problem-solving aren’t just a set of specific programs within a law enforcement agency, but rather guiding principles that define and run through everything the agency does. Community policing represents a proven and effective public service model well-suited for both the demands of 21st century public safety and the challenges facing American law enforcement.
And this is why the resources the COPS Office provides – resources above and beyond just the grant dollars – are so vitally important. Innovators are at work in law enforcement agencies all across the country – ranging from using new technologies to allow officers to be more effective at solving problems, to increasing accountability and responsiveness to the community, to looking at the power of non-traditional partnerships.
Over the course of these two days, you will hear about many opportunities for partnerships and innovation and collaboration to flourish within the area of community policing. I’d like to take a few moments to focus on just one aspect: building trust between law enforcement and the public and enhancing police-community relations. The COPS Office has long been at the forefront of such efforts, and as just one recent illustration of this important work, this past April the COPS Office hosted a forum on “Strengthening the Relationship between Law Enforcement and Communities of Color” in New York City. The forum gave local, state, and federal law enforcement, as well as community leaders and other criminal justice stakeholders, the opportunity to identify ways law enforcement can build trust in all of our communities. The event brought together police chiefs, community activists, civil rights organizations, and civic leaders from across the country to discuss effective strategies and what challenges these leaders have faced, such as, the NYPD’s thoughtful response in re-evaluating its crime prevention strategies in the face of concerns raised regarding its “stop and frisk policies.” . The New York City Forum will be followed by a publication highlighting the ways that law enforcement and community leaders found to come together to strengthen the communities they serve.
And at that forum, my predecessor announced a major new Department of Justice initiative aimed at enhancing public safety by strengthening relationships between law enforcement and communities – $4.75 million committed to establish the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. This initiative – which will be jointly supported by the COPS Office and the Office of Justice Programs, Civil Rights Division, Office on Violence Against Women and Community Relations Service – will expand our base of knowledge about what works to improve procedural fairness, reduce bias, and promote racial reconciliation in the field of law enforcement. It will help communities address the challenges arising from suspicion, distrust, and lack of confidence in our law enforcement agencies.
This effort will encompass a broad range of areas in which fairness and trust are implicated – from stops and searches to wrongful convictions. A team of cross-disciplinary experts will fuel the initiative by conducting research, piloting and testing innovative ideas, developing models for rigorous evaluation, and disseminating the latest research and best practices to the field. And our U.S. Attorneys will lead coordination efforts with five pilot sites that will implement and test strategies focused on procedural justice, implicit bias, and racial reconciliation. The solutions we find together will be backed by sound evidence-based practices but they will also look at the lessons learned by one agency to provide information and insight on effective and innovative practices for each and every law enforcement agency in the country.
The initiative will engage an array of criminal and juvenile justice agencies, including law enforcement, probation, parole, and the courts, as well as community stakeholders, like faith-based groups and victim service organizations. Our goal is to build on the pioneering work already underway in some of America’s most challenged areas and to open doors of cooperation that will ultimately lead to safer and healthier communities – the concept that’s at the very core of the philosophy of community policing. And this is why the COPS Office continues to be relevant and vital to the field today, 20 years after inception – because as far as we’ve come, there’s still so much we can accomplish working together to improve public safety.
Before I close, I again want to say thank you to Director Davis for his work leading the COPS Office.
And to the mayors and police chiefs who have gathered here to recognize how far we’ve come in the last 20 years and discuss where community policing is going for the next 20 years and beyond, thank you for your leadership. As I said earlier, everyone knows what a mayor and police chief does, and your work on behalf of your cities is truly remarkable. You recognized the importance of a federal investment in public safety when you came together to advocate on behalf of the Crime Bill 20 years ago, and I can’t think of a better group of people to gather and discuss the next evolution of community policing. You can be confident that the Department of Justice will stand with you as you work to keep your communities safe. Thank you for what you do, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here with you today. I look forward to working with you in the weeks and months to come.