THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
NATIONAL CITIZEN CORPS CONFERENCE
TUESDAY, JULY 29, 2003
Good morning! I heartily agree with Undersecretary Brown: "What a difference a year makes!"
The Department of Justice is privileged to be a partner in the President’s Citizen Corps initiative. Together with the federal charter agencies and our other partners, we have made tremendous strides in fulfilling the President’s vision of an army of citizen volunteers who are working to ensure the security of our homeland, respond to medical emergencies, and provide critical services to our communities. And I’m looking forward to building on these efforts with our newest federal partners, who are formally joining Citizen Corps today.
But it is our partners at the state and local level, particularly the thousands of private citizens who unselfishly volunteer their services to help others, whom we all wish to honor by our presence here today.
Because of its role as our nation’s chief law enforcement agency, the Justice Department, through its Office of Justice Programs, is supporting those dedicated private citizens by spearheading the two law enforcement- and crime prevention-related components of Citizen Corps.
In partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, we’re implementing the Volunteers in Police Service – or VIPS – program. And, in partnership with the National Sheriffs’ Association, we’re working to expand the highly respected Neighborhood Watch Program.
This morning, I’d like to bring you up to date on the tremendous progress we’ve made so far in implementing these two Citizen Corps initiatives.
As most of you probably know, the Volunteers in Police Service program is designed to increase the number of civilian volunteers working in law enforcement agencies and thereby free up law enforcement professionals to better perform their front-line duties.
Although a number of law enforcement agencies already had existing citizen volunteer programs, our goal is to increase the number of VIPS programs operating across the country, enhance existing VIPS programs, and help law enforcement agencies identify ways to expand their use of citizen volunteers.
To give potential volunteers an easy resource for information about VIPS, we began by creating a new Web site – www.policevolunteers.org.
The Web site allows citizens to search the database for a local VIPS program. And it provides information on the wide range of ways citizens can help their local law enforcement agencies – everything from reading parking meters, to servicing police vehicles, to conducting research, to taking police reports, to participating in citizen patrol programs.
There are also suggestions on the Web site for ways businesses, civic organizations, or other groups can assist local police, such as cleaning up local parks, providing automation and computer services, or funding crime prevention public service announcements.
Over the past year, this Web site has received more than 5 million "hits." And we believe that the Web site gateway has been instrumental in helping communities establish new VIPS programs, in mobilizing citizen volunteers, and in contributing to the tremendous growth this program has experienced in just over a year.
When Attorney General John Ashcroft launched our VIPS effort in May 2002, there were only 76 registered VIPS programs in 27 states and the District of Columbia. Today, there are 585 registered VIPS programs with more than 27,000 volunteers in all 50 states and DC. In fact, the program reached its 500 program goal milestone in less than a year. And we’re adding programs and volunteers almost daily.
In addition to this explosive growth, VIPS is the first program to bring together law enforcement volunteer programs from around the country to share resources and support each other’s activities. The Web site serves as one vehicle for this kind of exchange, and it provides a wealth of other information for law enforcement agencies looking to enhance or establish a VIPS program.
The Web makes available an online resource guide that lays out the steps to implementing a VIPS program, provides tips on managing civilian volunteers, and gives examples from successful VIPS programs throughout the country. The guide provides everything a law enforcement agency needs to get a VIPS program up and running.
The site also features an electronic newsletter, which currently has over 900 subscribers, and a discussion group that more than 300 members use to share information about VIPS.
As he’s traveled throughout the country to promote his Citizen Corps initiative, President Bush has recognized the contributions VIPS volunteers are making to their law enforcement agencies, their communities, and their country.
One example is Freddie McBride, who volunteers with the Beaverton, Oregon, Police Department. A senior citizen, Ms. McBride assists with clerical work in the detective unit, freeing up law enforcement officers to better perform their frontline duties.
And a Louisville, Kentucky senior, Ray Probus, volunteers 20 hours each week with the Jefferson County Police Department’s VIPS program, often driving 130 miles each day to deliver mail and supplies to police precincts throughout the county. He’s already well on his way to answering the President’s call for all American citizens to dedicate at least two years of their lives in volunteer service to their community.
But it’s not just our senior citizens who are contributing to their communities through VIPS. The San Diego Police Department has 960 volunteers who range in age from 18 to 80.
Citizens from all walks of life are using their special talents in service to their communities. Take, for example, Rodrigo Guajardo, who began working with the Alexandria Police Department in 1984 riding with patrol officers as a Spanish translator. He now organizes the Spanish translator ride-along schedule and also works with the Automated Systems Division, writing computer database programs and assisting with software engineering.
Mr. Guajardo says that the most enjoyable part of working as a law enforcement volunteer is "realizing that I can make a difference [for] the officers and the agency as a whole. . . I’m helping provide better service and a safer city for the citizens of Alexandria."
We plan to help create more successful stories like these over the next year by developing an array of training and technical assistance materials for use by VIPS programs across the country. For example, the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – known as COPS – will provide VIPS training through its Regional Community Policing Institutes. In addition, through its Enhancement of Community Policing program, COPS will provide funding – grants of up to $50,000 – that law enforcement agencies can use to establish or enhance VIPS programs. These funds can be used to hire VIPS program coordinators, purchase equipment for the program, or provide uniforms for VIPS volunteers.
Planning also is under way for 5 regional symposia to introduce VIPS and informational materials to communities throughout the country. A VIPS information and "best practices" clearinghouse is in the works. Enhancements are also planned for the VIPS Web site. And we’re developing a new Resource Guide on Law Enforcement Volunteer Programs for use by law enforcement agencies, and a brochure they can use to inform potential volunteers about VIPS.
Our efforts under VIPS complement the Justice Department’s other Citizen Corps component – the Neighborhood Watch Program. As you probably know, through Neighborhood Watch, community volunteers are trained by local law enforcement officers to patrol their neighborhoods and report suspicious activity to police.
Since this program first began more than 30 years ago, thousands of Neighborhood Watch volunteers have provided vital public safety services to their communities by augmenting local law enforcement efforts.
Under Citizen Corps, the Justice Department is working with the National Sheriffs’ Association to incorporate terrorism prevention into Neighborhood Watch’s long-time mission of preventing neighborhood crime, and to double the number of Neighborhood Watch groups across the nation by January 2004.
Neighborhood Watch members can play a potentially significant role in preventing terrorism by reporting to law enforcement anything that is out of the ordinary in their neighborhoods. This is not vigilantism, but simply a willingness to look out for suspicious activity and to report that activity to law enforcement. Through Neighborhood Watch, safe and secure neighborhoods can build the foundation of a safe and secure nation.
To spread the word about the Neighborhood Watch concept and to help local groups incorporate terrorism prevention into their mission, we’ve created the "USAonwatch" Web site – www.USAonwatch.org. This state-of-the-art Web site will include a searchable database, a national registry of Neighborhood Watch groups, and information about how to start and operate a Watch group.
The Web site also provides downloadable crime prevention resources for use by law enforcement agencies and Neighborhood Watch volunteers. Almost 36,000 copies of the Neighborhood Watch Implementation Manual have been downloaded since it was added to the Web site last January. That’s about 500 copies each week!
More than 425,000 individuals have accessed the Web site since January 2002, and more than 5,000 have signed up to receive the electronic newsletter, called "Watch This!"
As a result of these and other efforts, we’re well on our way to reaching our goal of 15,000 Neighborhood Watch programs by January 2004. There are now almost 13,000 registered Neighborhood Watch programs throughout the country, up from 7,500 just a year ago, all working to increase the safety of their neighborhoods and be "on watch" against terrorism.
We’ve issued a call to law enforcement agencies, citizen organizations, and the general public to help "Meet the Challenge" of reaching our 15,000 program goal by encouraging local residents to start new Neighborhood Watch groups or revitalize existing ones.
All across America, communities are answering this call to service. In Stafford County, Virginia, for example, just south of Washington, DC, John Scott and his wife keep watch on a bridge. The bridge carries critical infrastructure for the nation’s capital – a fuel pipeline for Dulles and Washington’s Reagan National airports and telecommunications fiber optic cables for MCI, Sprint, and Quest.
As part of Stafford County’s Homeland Security Neighborhood Watch program, the Scotts and their neighbors have received special training on how to be "on watch" against terrorism. The training provides community volunteers with descriptions of the critical infrastructure areas near their homes, the basics of an effective Neighborhood Watch Program, and information about possible terrorist and sabotage risks to the community.
Each volunteer receives a special homeland security notebook containing information about how to contact the proper authorities to report suspected terrorist activity or to call for emergency assistance.
In Hillsborough County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies have formed a Business Watch, to help local business owners better protect themselves and their property in the case of a terrorist event or other emergency.
In Reno, Nevada, the sheriff's office has helped launch a new Citizen Homeland Security Council composed of residents who are trained on terrorism issues and emergency response. Council members will assist the sheriff’s office when needed and train their neighbors on how to prepare for an emergency.
Other communities have incorporated other Citizen Corps components into Neighborhood Watch. In Polk County, Missouri, law enforcement officials have teamed with emergency management officials to incorporate Community Emergency Response Team training into their Neighborhood Watch programs.
In the event of an emergency, team members would check on neighbors to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for. They also would try to eliminate any fire hazards, such as shutting off gas mains to prevent an explosion.
Training has been provided to 70 county residents, including a group of teenage Civil Air Patrol cadets. The local Wal-Mart is a partner, and the county has appointed a coordinator to encourage other businesses, day care centers, and schools to participate in this innovative community safety effort.
At the Justice Department, we’re working to incorporate Citizen Corps into other programs that involve citizen volunteers. Operation Weed and Seed is one example.
Through Operation Weed and Seed, over 300 communities are working to "weed out" violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity in targeted high-crime neighborhoods.. At the same time, these programs "seed" their neighborhoods with human service and economic development initiatives to improve the quality of life in these communities over the long term.
Citizens are essential partners in Weed and Seed activities. They work closely with police on crime prevention efforts, volunteer for human service projects and neighborhood clean-up and revitalization efforts, serve on Weed and Seed Steering Committees, and work with youth.
Weed and Seed also has added homeland security as a focus of its efforts. This includes strengthening law enforcement drug interdiction and counter terrorism activities; developing local emergency response and security plans; evaluating fire, rescue, and public health resources; and expanding the participation of the faith-based community in calling for greater tolerance as the community increases its watchfulness against possible terrorist activities.
Citizen participation also is a critical element of Project Safe Neighborhoods, the Administration’s initiative to reduce gun-related crime and violence in our communities. In each of the 94 federal districts, Project Safe Neighborhoods task forces are working to encourage residents to report gun violence to police, take gun safety measures, and send criminals the message that gun violence won’t be tolerated.
In addition, community residents are important partners in our National AMBER Alert initiative. AMBER Alerts are issued when a child is abducted and is considered by law enforcement to be in serious danger of bodily harm. The Alerts ask the public’s help to be on the lookout for a suspect or a vehicle and to report sightings to police. Through the vigilance of citizens, and some good police work, over 80 children have been safely recovered with the help of AMBER Alerts.
There are many other ways citizen volunteers can help to ensure the safety of their communities. For example, we need more volunteers to serve as mentors for at-risk youth. Research has shown that the active involvement of a caring adult is likely to be the most critical factor in keeping at-risk kids out of trouble.
Each year, over 1,500 citizens volunteer to mentor thousands of at-risk young people under our JUMP – Juvenile Mentoring Program. But there are many more kids who could benefit from a mentor and don’t have one.
You know what people say: "If you want something done, ask a busy person." The people who become engaged in Citizen Corps efforts are likely to volunteer in a variety of ways in their communities, as they experience the tremendous fulfillment we all find when we serve the greater good, the broader community – a cause greater than ourselves.
Next Tuesday, August 5th, thousands of communities across the country will be working to raise awareness of the critical role citizens can play in community safety efforts. Each year, the Justice Department, the National Association of Town Watch, and other crime prevention partners cosponsor National Night Out.
Last year, about 33 million people participated in National Night Out activities designed to heighten crime prevention awareness, generate participation in local anti-crime programs, strengthen police-community partnerships, and let criminals know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. VIPS and Neighborhood Watch groups are participating in this year’s event, which is the 20th commemoration of National Night Out.
I encourage you to incorporate National Night Out and other crime prevention activities into the agendas of your Citizen Corps Councils. I also hope you’ll work with the state criminal justice planning agencies in your state to coordinate your public safety efforts with them. These agencies set state criminal justice priorities, policies, and programming. They also make decisions on how federal funding for state and local public safety initiatives will be distributed within the state.
For these reasons, your state criminal justice planning agency could serve as an important member of your Citizen Corps councils and help to coordinate Citizen Corps initiatives with other state public safety efforts.
If you don’t know which agency to contact, there’s a listing on the Office of Justice Programs Web site – www.ojp.usdoj.gov/state.htm. There are also copies of the list on the NCJRS table in the back of the room.
As we work to ensure the security of our homeland from terrorism and other crime, it’s more important than ever to find innovative ways to help law enforcement and other public safety officers carry out their awesome responsibilities. Citizen Corps provides this kind of innovative effort by enlisting a very powerful and valuable resource – citizen volunteers.
I want to thank you for the work you’re doing – and the leadership you’re showing – in your states to build Citizen Corps. Through Citizen Corps, and the efforts of its thousands of dedicated citizen volunteers, our communities will be safer, stronger, and fully prepared for any emergency. Thank you.