THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
THIRD ANNUAL CITIZENS ON PATROL CONFERENCE
ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2002
Good afternoon, everyone. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked me to express his regret that his schedule prevented him from accepting Art's invitation to join you today. But I'm very pleased to be here. And on behalf of the Attorney General, I want to commend all of you involved in Citizens on Patrol for your service to your communities and to your country. I understand that, for more than 20 years, Citizen Patrol volunteers have been working to help keep their neighborhoods safe.
At the Department of Justice, we recognize the valuable service you provide. We know that law enforcement officers can't be everywhere, and can't stop, or solve, crimes by themselves. That's why it's so crucial to have the active support and involvement of community members – like Citizens on Patrol – in serving as the “eyes and ears” of police.
Your services are more vital than ever before, as American law enforcement faces the challenge of domestic terrorism. Today, law enforcement agencies must be responsible for preventing and responding to terrorist incidents here in our country, as well as continuing to combat traditional crime.
As you know, we're working at the federal level to encourage citizen support to bolster the tremendous service state and local law enforcement provides in ensuring homeland security and the safety of our communities.
Following the terrible events of September 11th, 2001, the White House received message from citizens from all across the country who wanted to be of service to their country and their community. I know you understand the rage they felt – wanting to do something, actively, to make their community and country safer.
In response, the President established the USA Freedom Corps, setting up a network of volunteer organizations under the rubric of the Citizen Corps, which will marshal the skills and knowledge of the American people to help law enforcement respond to terrorism and other crime. Citizen Corps are networks of citizens, businesses, and government agencies, organized at the local level and working with the local community.
In calling for increased citizen involvement, President Bush asked Americans to volunteer at least 4,000 hours of community service – an amount equivalent to two years – over their lifetimes. And I know many Citizen Patrol volunteers have already exceeded this goal.
The Justice Department is administering certain Citizen Corps components designed to provide ways for public-spirited citizens to assist their own communities:
- In cooperation with the National Sheriff's Association, we're working to increase the number of Neighborhood Watch programs across the country and to incorporate terrorism prevention into this program's long-time mission of preventing neighborhood crime. The goal is to double the number of Neighborhood Watch programs across the country over the next year. The National Sheriff's Association has developed a great web page and useful models for communities around the country to follow. You can access it either through the OJP web site, or through www.citizencorps.gov., and I commend the site to your attention.
- Through the Volunteers in Police Services – or V.I.P.S. – program, we're working to increase the number of citizen volunteers working with law enforcement agencies, in order to free up law enforcement professionals to better perform their front-line duties. V.I.P.S. also helps law enforcement agencies identify ways to expand their use of citizen volunteers, enhance existing V.I.P.S. programs, or start new ones. Many law enforcement agencies have very successful volunteer programs already – and many resemble the good work of Citizens on Patrol. We're really taking a page from your book as we assist police agencies in developing their own programs.
I'm delighted to have the opportunity to express my thanks publicly to Chief Bill Berger, President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, for the tremendous support that organization has provided as our partners in the V.I.P.S. effort. They have been spectacular, and I encourage you to visit the V.I.P.S. web site, which again is accessible through the Citizen Corps web site, or directly at www.policevolunteers.org.
- We were also requested to develop Operation TIPS, the Terrorism Information Prevention System, which was conceived as a way to provide a non-emergency call center and routing system for those working on our highways, waterways, and ports to report suspicious, and potentially terrorist-related, publicly observable activity to law enforcement. Law enforcement, as the trained professionals, would determine how to follow up on the information they receive from this hotline, just as they have always done so well, with information volunteered on a daily basis from citizens in all communities, in all walks of life – and just as they do with the information that Citizens on Patrol participants volunteer on a regular basis.
Let me take two more minutes just to debunk some inaccurate rumors about Operation TIPS that have recently spread as uncontrollably as the terrible fires that have raged across the West this summer.
Last year soon after September 11, we were approached by organizations of public sector workers, such as truckers, whose long-standing and successful “Highway Watch” program has helped to solve and even prevent crimes around the country.
Other similar programs include Coast Watch, which includes ship captains and lobstermen who cruise our eastern shores daily, and even “Fertilizer Watch” – which may help to prevent incidents like the Oklahoma City bombing.
These responsible working people in respected organizations told us that they, in the course of their daily routines, are in the best position to notice anomalies, things that are out of place. For example, if a trucker sees someone driving an 18-wheeler that is loaded with hazardous material, and sees that person try to fill his tank with regular fuel instead of diesel fuel, he knows that load could be stolen.
These public-minded citizens requested a uniform method of reporting public, suspicious activity to law enforcement.
Our response was to suggest that we would set up “Operation TIPS”: an 800 number to be provided to these industry groups, from which we would route their reports directly to not only the FBI, but also state and local law enforcement.
At that point, the law enforcement professionals would take over, doing what they would do with any citizen report that comes in: analyzing it, determining whether to follow up and investigate, determining whether an emergency exists, and acting accordingly.
We hoped to encourage these public-spirited industry workers by making it easy for them to report public, suspicious activity to the police. We regret that the legitimate privacy concerns we all share and hold dear have led some people to fear an invasion of their privacy. I assure you that nothing could be further from our intentions. We currently await word from the Congress as to whether we will be permitted to proceed with this initiative.
Let me also clear up another possible misperception about our Citizen Corps initiatives. These are not funding programs. While we'd like to be able to provide financial assistance to every organization that wants to participate in these efforts, the simple truth is that we just don't have the funding to be able to do so. Members of this organization understand well that it's the personal commitment of individual volunteers, not government funding, that makes Citizens on Patrol so effective. Having said that, I know that many of you are using your own resources – contributing not just your time, but also your personal vehicle, fuel, cell phone, etc. And I know Art Femister is hoping for funding to keep the national organization moving.
Congress is still debating the Justice Department's appropriation for 2003, so we don't yet know exactly what funds will be available next year. But we do know that, with the Department's current, primary focus on ensuring adequate support for our core counterterrorism and law enforcement responsibilities, federal funding for other purposes will be very limited.
Additional problems we face include the fact that we expect, in 2003, as in 2002, that 100% of our discretionary funds will be earmarked by members of Congress for projects of their choosing. These are the funds normally used to award grants, at our discretion, to organizations with promising approaches to crime reduction. However, we don't expect to have any of that funding available in 2003. And, or course, all federal funding is only seed money, intended to start programs on the road to success but not to sustain them for the long term.
Some avenues you might consider, to help with minor costs of your efforts, are the Edward Byrne formula grants administered by your state, or the Local Law Enforcement Block Grants administered by your local government. You might also seek assistance from private not-for-profit foundations, who often are willing to assist community groups who are doing good works. If you prove your worth, and show that you're a lean organization, you'll attract funding.
What we at OJP can provide, and are providing, is technical assistance – primarily through our online information services – to allow as many volunteer agencies as possible to participate in these Citizen Corps initiatives. I hope you'll check out the web site at www.citizencorps.com for information about how you can get involved in this important effort.
I know many Citizen Patrol programs are already contributing to our nation's homeland security efforts. Earlier this year, President Bush recognized your critical role. He said: “If people. . . want to help be a part of the first defense on homeland security – and that is [to] help patrol neighborhoods or industrial complexes to make sure nothing unusual is happening, a great program is Citizens on Patrol . . .”
The President went on to recognize the Citizens on Patrol program in Volusia County, Florida. Last year alone, this program's more than 200 volunteers put in 51,000 hours to help patrol neighborhoods and report suspicious activity to police. They even patrolled the county's water treatment plants, which we know are a prime target for terrorists intent on spreading toxic biological agents through our nation's water supply system.
This brings up another suggestion I heard yesterday; information sharing. We need to figure out a way to bring volunteers into the loop, to the extent that is appropriate. If we could give you an idea of what to look for, you could be more effective.
In the meantime, I know you're working with your local law enforcement agencies to think through your community's particular vulnerabilities, and how you can best provide coverage of those activities or sites.
Citizen Patrols also play an important role in helping to search for and recover missing children. The nation's headlines this summer were dominated by reports of one child abduction after another. However, as I think many of you will agree, news reports don't always tell the whole story.
Although a single child's victimization is one too many – and there have been some very tragic cases in this part of the country recently – our most recent national data reflect that stranger abductions are on the decline. Nonetheless, the data indicate that there were over 58,000 “non-family abductions” in the United States in 1999.
Fortunately, 99 percent of these children returned home. Tragically, 115 of the abductions were perpetrated by strangers, and the child was kept overnight, held for ransom, or killed.
The issues associated with missing and exploited children are of great concern to us at the Office of Justice Programs and are something we address on a daily basis. Through the Child Protection Division of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, we work to .meet the needs of missing, exploited, and runaway children and their families through directive services, research and demonstration programs, and training and technical assistance provided to a variety of community members.
In addition, OJJDP funds a number of programs that promote child and teen safety, and provides major support for the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children. I know you'll hear more about this issue and the work of the National Center later today.
We're also working with the White House to sponsor the President's Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children, which will be held in Washington on October 2nd. The conference will bring together leading national experts to find ways to help parents and communities protect our children.
In the coming weeks, we'll also be providing additional resources to help law enforcement agencies and concerned citizens work together to see that no parent has to experience the tragedy of losing a child to abduction or exploitation. Because we know that, while federal level efforts are important, it's going to take the support of all citizens to help protect our children.
As you'll probably remember, a citizen tip to police led to the recovery of two California teenagers who'd been abducted by a felon who was already wanted on rape charges. The abductor also stole a car, with was spotted on a remote, rural road by a local Animal Control officer who'd seen a description of the vehicle broadcast over the Amber Alert System and called the information into police. Law enforcement authorities believe the two teenage girls were only minutes away from being killed by their abductor when they were rescued and brought to safety.
Citizen involvement also is crucial in enacting stronger laws to protect the innocent and to ensure tough punishment for criminals. Mike Reynolds, who you're recognizing today with a Citizen Action award, illustrates how just one citizen can have an enormous impact on making our communities safer.
As you know, Mike is the driving force behind California's stringent Three Strikes law, which requires long prison terms for repeat violent offenders. Mike turned his anger into action following the murder of his daughter by a man who'd been in and out of prison for most of his life, beginning when he was just 15 years old. Had the Three Strikes Law been in effect, Mike's daughter and countless other innocent victims would likely be alive today.
Since Washington State and then California enacted Three Strikes laws, similar legislation has been adopted by 23 states and the federal government. And we need more tough laws like these – and more citizen action like that of Mike Reynolds – to protect our citizens and our communities from criminal predators.
I want to commend Mike and all of you for your efforts to prevent crime in our communities and to protect the security of our homeland. The Attorney General and all of us at the Department of Justice will continue to do whatever we can to support your efforts to, as it says in the Citizens on Patrol motto, “be seen, be heard, and make a difference.” Again, thank you all for your service to your communities and to your country; I am delighted and humbled to be in your presence today.