Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the 2022 Project Safe Neighborhoods National Summit to Reduce Violence and Strengthen Communities | OPA

Remarks as Delivered

Good afternoon, everyone. 

Thank you, Amy, also Karhlton, and the rest of our tireless OJP staff, for your work in making this Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) National Summit successful.

This event has brought together over 500 prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and community partners from across the country. I know that was no easy feat, I am grateful for your efforts.

Earlier this year, President Biden and I held a meeting with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in New York. At that meeting, I said that the Justice Department is doubling down on the fight to protect our communities from violent crime, and from the gun violence that often drives it. 

I also said that we would be doing so in collaboration with the communities most affected by this violence.  

That same day, the Department announced that we would be hosting this summit as a part of those efforts.           

Over the last two days, you have participated in panels on topics ranging from implementing community violence intervention strategies to engaging and supporting witnesses and victims of violence.

And you have exchanged knowledge about what works, what doesn’t, and what we can do together to ensure that our actions produce lasting safety, trust, and justice in our communities.

Thank you for participating, and thank you for your partnership.

Soon after I was sworn in as Attorney General over a year ago, I launched an anti-violent crime strategy aimed at fighting the rise in violence that we all saw in 2020.

That strategy is based on exactly the kind of partnership reflected in this summit: partnership among federal law enforcement agencies assisting in the fight against violent crime; partnership with the local communities harmed by that crime; and partnership with the state, local, Tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies protecting those local communities every day.

Those partnerships are this country’s most powerful tool – and our best hope – to protect our communities from violent crime.

And after more than 20 years, Project Safe Neighborhoods remains one of the Justice Department’s most important initiatives for fostering those partnerships.

That is because PSN shows what we can do when we are at our best. 

It shows what we can do when we collaborate, bringing together law enforcement, research, and community partners. 

And it shows what we can do when we use strategies that are tailored to the needs of, and are developed alongside, individual communities.

The Justice Department’s commitment to disrupting violent crime, like any other commitment, requires regular review and reassessment in order to ensure our continued success. We must ensure that our strategies remain effective, grounded in research, and consistent with our values.

As part of the Justice Department’s comprehensive strategy to disrupt violent crime, we strengthened PSN. And we outlined four new strategies that now serve as the pillars of the program: Community Engagement; Prevention and Intervention; Focused and Strategic Enforcement; and Accountability. 

You have no doubt heard a lot about these pillars over the last two days. 

But I want to underscore that they all support the same goal: they help us ensure that every community — small and large, rural and urban — has the tools it needs to curb violent crime. 

The Justice Department is committed to using every resource at its disposal to support our community and law enforcement partners in that effort.

That is why all of our Department law enforcement agencies, and our 94 United States Attorneys’ offices — all of which are represented at this summit — are working with their partners in state and local law enforcement to develop and implement district-specific, anti-violent crime policies.

And that is why, for Fiscal Year 2023, we have asked Congress to give the Department $40 million to dedicate to Project Safe Neighborhoods.

We also know that, while many of the public safety challenges our cities face require this tailored approach, gun violence is a universal challenge, and one that demands comprehensive action.

Just last week, the CDC reported that in 2020, the firearm homicide rate reached its highest level in over 25 years. 124 people died from a firearm-related injury every day.

And while firearm homicide rates increased across all age groups — in both large and small cities, and in rural areas — Black male children, teenagers, and adults were disproportionately the victims of these crimes.

The Justice Department is committed to disrupting this disturbing increase in gun violence.

We have instructed our U.S. Attorneys’ offices to prioritize prosecutions of those who are responsible for the greatest gun violence. These include repeat offenders who are the major drivers of violent crime. 

These also include those who illegally traffic in firearms, and those who act as straw purchasers.

Each U.S. Attorney’s Office and each ATF Field Division is designating coordinators to work with our law enforcement partners to tackle the threat of ghost guns.

We are strengthening our firearms trafficking [strike] forces, to disrupt the pipelines that flood our communities with illegal guns.

We are working alongside the communities most affected by gun violence and providing direct support to community violence intervention efforts.

And ATF is undertaking the first comprehensive study of criminal gun trafficking in 24 years.

You all have now seen Volume I, Firearms in Commerce. It provides a clear picture of the increase in firearms manufacturing, as well as technological developments, including the proliferation of “ghost guns.”

We expect that the lessons from this study will help agents, prosecutors, and policymakers tackle modern criminal gun trafficking. 

We are also evaluating how some of our best tools, such as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and the National Tracing Center, are keeping up with the times. 

These tools allow us to turn the evidence that law enforcement agencies collect at crime scenes into leads that assist in identifying, investigating, and prosecuting those who commit violent crimes.

The rising trend of violent crime is persistent and pernicious. The Department of Justice will be relentless in its effort to reverse this trend.

But none of us can do this work alone. The partnerships fostered by PSN, and the resulting initiatives, are critical to success. 

The Justice Department is committed to continuing to bring together our indispensable community and law enforcement partners from across the country to share best practices on disrupting violent crime. Together, we will strengthen our coordinated efforts to keep our communities and our country safe.

Together, we will save lives. 

I cannot close my remarks without saying a few words about the horrific attack that occurred last weekend in Buffalo, in which 10 people were killed, another three injured, and an entire community terrorized.

As I said on the day the attack occurred, the Justice Department is investigating this matter as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism.

We are working closely with our local, state, and federal partners to ensure accountability and to ensure justice for the victims and their families.

As is the case in all of our ongoing criminal investigations, we are limited in what we can say.

But what I will say is that one of the Department’s first principal tasks upon its founding in 1870 was to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and to hold white supremacists accountable for the terrible violence perpetrated against Black Americans.

Almost 152 years later, our charge to disrupt, investigate, and prosecute hate-fueled attacks remains urgent.

The Justice Department takes seriously our legal obligation to hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes that terrorize communities.

And as Americans, we must all accept the moral obligation that each of us has to confront the hatred that fuels those crimes.

Thank you all for your participation. I look forward to our continued work together in the days ahead.

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