Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Amy. I want to start off by thanking you and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Director Karhlton Moore and your teams at the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and BJA for hosting this summit. I also want to thank you for your commitment to this work and everything else you have helped the department accomplish throughout the years. This work is always important, but the events of this past weekend underscore the critical nature of the work you are all doing. The shootings in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Southern California and Harris County, Texas, are stark reminders of the human cost of gun violence, and we recommit ourselves to doing everything in our power to keep our neighborhoods and communities safe from this threat.
Today is really a full-circle moment for me. I was counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, when, as Amy mentioned, a lot of the people gathered here today worked to create the SACSI model. The continuity and success of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) – over two decades of making communities safer – was grounded in that early work and made stronger every day by people at this summit and so many others we all have had the privilege to work with over the past 20 years.
It is great to join this group of law enforcement executives, prosecutors, and community leaders, all committed to the safety and stability of America’s communities. I want to thank you all for being part of these discussions and for the exceptional work you do, every day, to protect the American people and to ensure a just and equitable society.
The Attorney General called for this summit when he visited New York City with President Biden in February to outline our comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence and strengthening communities. With it, we reaffirm that the Department of Justice has no higher priority than keeping the American people safe.
We are gathered virtually today and tomorrow to talk about complex public safety challenges we are all confronting daily – gun crime, gang violence, the proliferation of lethal drugs on our streets. The Department of Justice is committed to working with all of you to address these problems, through prevention, community engagement and strategic enforcement.
PSN has more than two decades of proven results helping communities address gun- and drug-related violence. It is coordinated through the 93 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). It is one of the department’s key initiatives for addressing the most pressing violent crime problems in communities across the nation – which is why I am pleased to announce that we will be releasing our FY 2022 PSN grant solicitation this week.
We will also put out a call to add five sites to our Public Safety Partnership (PSP) program, an innovative framework established by the Department of Justice to enhance federal support for state, local and Tribal law enforcement and prosecution authorities that are seeing surges in violent crime.
PSN and PSP reflect our commitment to ensuring that everyone on the frontlines has access to the resources, information, and experts they need to perform at the highest levels.
I want to thank each of our U.S. Attorneys and their teams for all they do to support the PSN and PSP programs. You are a key part of the department’s leadership team and all our efforts to combat violent crime.
As I have had the chance to go out and meet with law enforcement and community leaders, I hear a similar message whether I’m in a large urban area or a smaller jurisdiction. Communities and the law enforcement professionals that serve them are confronting a rise in violence while living and serving in environments marked by the strain of two especially stressful years.
Law enforcement officers are routinely asked to be the response – sometimes the only response – to many issues that are not squarely law enforcement issues. They also are bearing the stressors of the job are contributing to recruitment and retention challenges.
After a week of remembrance for those we lost in the line of duty, I am mindful of statistics reported to the FBI, that 129 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2021.73 of them died as a result of felonious acts, while many others succumbed to COVID-19.
And I was privileged to be at the White House yesterday for the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor ceremony. President Biden awarded medals to police ad fire fighters for demonstrating uncommon valor in the line of duty. These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things in service of their communities every day – and we owe them a debt.
The Department of Justice will do all we can for those who protect and serve. We are committed to making sure you have access to best practices, to tools and technology, to resources for hiring and training, and to wellness resources and support that help you do your jobs and serve your communities.
When it comes to violent crime, the Department of Justice will work with you to identify and support proven strategies, and share proven practices and investigative techniques, but we recognize that it is you and your PSN teams who know best what works in your communities.
The most pressing problem in one jurisdiction might be a rise in domestic violence during the pandemic; in another, it might be fentanyl trafficking; and in another it might be youth involvement in gun violence.
When the challenge is violence, we need to listen to what the data tell us as we develop and implement solutions. That is why we are investing in policing best practices, in community policing, and in community violence intervention and prevention.
We hold gatherings like this one to identify innovative programs, to support them and to expand them.
Earlier this month, I spoke to police executives at a forum held by the ATF that identified clear “action items” that we can support. We have a data gap in collecting images of shell casings recovered at crime scenes for NIBIN analysis. Fewer than 50% of the law enforcement departments participate in E-trace, a free online program that assists in the tracing of recovered firearms.
If that many departments were not submitting the fingerprints of individuals they arrested for violent crime – it would be unacceptable. These are essentially the fingerprints of the guns used in crime.
We can only address the current rise in violence if we have the best available information and use the most effective tools and research to fuel our efforts. To that end, today I am announcing important new research by ATF.
Today, ATF is releasing Volume One of the National Firearms in Commerce and Trafficking Assessment. This is the first joint academic study of firearms trafficking in more than 20 years. It provides detailed information on firearms commerce in the United States from 2000 to 2020. A year ago, President Biden and Attorney General Garland directed ATF to issue a comprehensive report on firearms commerce and trafficking. ATF assembled a team of subject experts from within the Bureau and from academia to compile this report.
Among the findings highlighted in this report the skyrocketing number of short barreled rifles in the United States over the last 20 years and also the 1000% increase of privately made firearms – or ghost guns – in just the last five years. Although this is the first comprehensive analysis of its type in two decades – more is in development.
Today, the ATF is also releasing city-level firearms trace data for 15 cities across the country, including the five market districts at the center of the department’s firearms trafficking strike forces. While this information has been available to law enforcement, this is the first time that such data is being released publicly.
We need to know who is using guns in crimes so we can focus our enforcement efforts on those individuals. And this data does just that. It helps us tailor our approach at the most significant drivers of gun violence and take those shooters off the streets.
And through community-driven PSN strategies we can provide services and support to prevent that violence in the first place.
Ultimately, what is so important about the PSN model is the integration of policing leadership with community knowledge about what is needed on every block in this country.
This is not quick work, but I know we are making progress. If we do this work together; if we are focused on supporting the partnerships represented here; if we learn from each other, leverage technology, we can make our communities safer.
Thank you for everything you and your teams do every day to keep us safe. The Department of Justice values your partnership, and we look forward to continuing to work with you to make our country safer.
With that, I wish you a productive summit, and I will turn things over to Bureau of Justice Assistance Director Karhlton Moore.