THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
HISPANIC AMERICAN POLICE COMMAND OFFICERS ASSOCIATION
29TH ANNUAL TRAINING CONFERENCE
THURSDAY, AUGUST 22, 2002
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
I’m delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to meet with the members of the oldest organization of command-level Hispanic law enforcement professionals in the country.
As law enforcement executives – and particularly as Hispanic law enforcement executives – you face a number of challenges. I’d like to talk about some of the challenges faced by law enforcement in America today, and how you – as a command-level law enforcement officer and as an Hispanic – can help meet them.
Foremost among the challenges faced by everyone involved in law enforcement is the threat of terrorism.
- You have increased responsibility for ensuring security at airports, reservoirs, power plants, bridges, and other critical structures.
- Each new anthrax incident or terrorist warning brings an increase in calls for service to investigate reports of spilled powder or suspicious packages or persons.
- With the FBI’s increased focus on counterterrorism, local police will likely be called upon to take a more prominent role in investigating and prosecuting bank robberies, white-collar crime, and other incidents that traditionally have been within the domain of federal law enforcement.
- And law enforcement also must be more alert to the link between terrorism and crimes such as drug trafficking, cybercrime, and identity theft. We know that terrorists have turned to crimes such as these to finance and support their activities.
To help law enforcement respond to terrorism, the Justice Department is working on several initiatives. Of course, we currently house within OJP the Office for Domestic Preparedness, providing critical all-hazards first responder training and equipment to police, fire, EMT and other emergency response personnel. This function will move to the new Department of Homeland Security once the Congress passes currently pending legislation.
Second, OJP has been working to increase and standardize the terrorism prevention, disruption and investigation training being made available by various agencies of the federal government. We are also building the capacity of RISS, the Regional Information Sharing Systems, and creating a linkage between RISS and LEO, the FBI’s “Law Enforcement Online” communication system.
Finally, the Justice Department is working on an initiative that is part of the President’s USA Freedom Corps -- helping citizens help law enforcement.
As we increase our vigilance against terrorism, however, we need to ensure that we do not infringe upon the civil rights and liberties of our citizens and legal immigrants, and that we respect the dignity of all persons - including undocumented aliens.
These concerns about protecting the civil liberties and respecting the dignity of all people in our country are legitimate, and suggest an additional challenge for law enforcement today - to work toward increasing the diversity of our police forces, to increase all officers’ awareness and sensitivity to cultural and racial differences, and to ensure the equitable treatment of every individual who comes in contact with our criminal justice system. These are issues you are dealing with in this conference - and issues your members are uniquely positioned to influence.
Data from our Bureau of Justice Statistics show that we are making some progress in these areas. The number of Hispanic law enforcement officers in our nation’s largest police departments increased from 9 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in the year 2000. That’s pretty good, considering that Hispanics made up only 12 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, according to the Bureau of the Census.
But we’ll have to work hard to ensure that Hispanics continue to be fully represented among our nation’s police. Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, increasing at a rate of more than 55 percent every 10 years. The Census Bureau predicts that Hispanics will comprise 20 percent of the U.S. population by the year 2010 and more than 45 percent by 2050. As Dr. Betances, our excellent diversity instructor, has pointed out, Hispanics should not be viewed as a “minority.” Rather, they should be seen as members of an “emerging majority group”. This raises other challenges, including a growing tension between African-Americans and Hispanics. You must address this as well. Similarly, there are tensions among Hispanic cultures, such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans.
As leaders and role models in the Hispanic community, I encourage you to do everything you can to recruit more Hispanics into law enforcement departments across the country and get them into every level of the organization. Key to this effort is reaching out to young people, and helping them understand that the role of law enforcement is to protect all law-abiding people, not to oppress any ethnic group. Some of this outreach involves cultural education, helping Hispanic youth to understand why law enforcement officers take certain actions and how to avoid actions which may be misinterpreted by police.
HAPCOA’s leadership has shared with me your bilingual pamphlet, teaching young people what to do if they’re stopped by the police.
I have shared your pamphlet with our Weed and Seed office, and they were so impressed that they’re now disseminating a similar publication in Weed and Seed sites across the country, with the HAPCOA logo prominently displayed. We greatly appreciate HAPCOA’s leadership in this critical area; and I believe this kind of outreach can go a long way to improve relations between law enforcement and the communities you serve. Maybe we need to also train police in the culture of the Hispanic youth, to further encourage understanding and minimize incidents that result from culturally-based misperceptions.
At the Justice Department, we’re increasing our own efforts to release information in both Spanish and English. For example, our Victims Office translated its Handbook for Coping After Terrorism into Spanish. And our Bureau of Justice Statistics just released a Special Report on Hispanic victims in a back-to-back English/Spanish version.
That report shows we’re also making progress in reducing crimes against Hispanics, just as in the overall population. Between 1993 and 2000, the rate of violent victimization against Hispanics fell 56 percent.
One disturbing statistic from our report, however, is that Hispanics and other minorities are twice as likely as whites to be victims of an offender armed with a firearm. Helping our communities meet the challenge of gun violence is a priority for the Justice Department under the leadership of President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft.
I hope you’re all working with your U.S. Attorney to implement Project Safe Neighborhoods in your jurisdiction. As New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias probably told you yesterday, this is a major national effort to reduce gun violence throughout the country through use of a comprehensive, strategic approach.
In addition to addressing violence on our streets, we also must do more to address violence in our homes. Our victimization data show that violence among intimate partners has decreased in recent years – including among Hispanics.
Still, each year almost a million women suffer violence at the hands of someone they know. Almost one-third of American women murdered each year are killed by their current or former partners, usually a husband. And the abuse children suffer or witness in their homes can spawn legacies of violence in families across America. I urge you to use your position and your voice to ensure that all the officers in your departments view domestic violence as seriously as any violent crime committed by a stranger.
We still hear far too often of law enforcement officials who look the other way in domestic violence incidents, who let perpetrators off the hook with a wink and a warning, who leave the victim and her children in a home where they are not safe, often with fatal consequences. I urge you, if you do not have them already, to implement strong policies in your departments regarding the appropriate handling of domestic violence incidents, to enforce those policies, and to hold accountable those officers who fail to meet the high standards you set.
I also believe that we have an opportunity to prevent domestic violence through education, in particular through outreach to new members of the American community regarding the strong position we take as a society against all types of domestic violence. You, as Hispanic law enforcement leadership, are uniquely positioned to adopt that important education role.
As President Bush said recently, “As a Nation, we must prioritize addressing the problem of domestic violence in our communities. . ., emphasize that domestic violence is a crime, warn abusers that they will be prosecuted, and offer victims more aid and support.”
Finally, we need your help to see that we, as a society, are doing everything we can to ensure equal treatment of all who intersect with the criminal justice system. Just last weekend, I reviewed a publication of the Youth Law Center’s Building Blocks for Youth program, entitled “Dónde Está la Justicia?” This report suggests that Latino and Latina youth are overrepresented in the criminal justice system in comparison to their representative percentage of the American population.
While the report does not provide an in-depth analysis of the possible explanations for the raw numbers cited, it raises, at the very least, a perception issue regarding the way in which the system is seen by some as dealing with Latino youth. And among its recommendations are some for the law enforcement community, many of which appropriately suggest outreach, education and other methods for improving the level of trust between the Latino community and the law enforcement community. And the education effort has to go both ways. Once again, the members of HAPCOA are uniquely situated to build that trust level.
One more thing: I hope you will tell us at the Department of Justice how we can improve in our own approach to all these issues. We want to hear from you and want to work closely with you.
HAPCOA is in a position to be hugely influential in how we will all approach law enforcement in this country in the coming years; and we welcome, and strongly encourage, your active input. I want to commend all of you for your commitment to addressing the challenges faced by your communities. All of us at the Department of Justice are committed to working with you to advance law enforcement in this country, to protect the rights of Hispanics and other “emerging majority groups,” and to ensure the safety of our homes and neighborhoods. Thank you all very much.