TTHE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
LAW ENFORCEMENT AND YOUTH PARTNERSHIPS
FOR CRIME PREVENTION CONFERENCE
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2004
Thank you, Domingo. I'm so pleased to be part of this important gathering of law enforcement professionals and youth advocates.
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Domingo and Bob Flores and their very capable staffs for their fine work in putting this conference together. I'm very privileged to work with these two men of vision, and can vouch personally for their powerful commitment to young people and the communities in which they live.
I also want to thank our eight national partners. A dry reading of their names would not do justice to their contributions, and I know they'd rather I spend my time talking about the issues anyway. But their names are prominent in the conference materials, and I strongly encourage each of you to acquaint yourselves with them and to learn about the important work that they have done, and continue to do.
I do want to give special thanks to Robbie Callaway and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, who took us at our word when we asked them to work with us to forge a closer partnership between that organization's efforts and those of our law enforcement community.
The fact that there are so many partners in this effort underscores two important points about our purpose here. First, it demonstrates the tremendous interest in—indeed, the urgent need for—law enforcement and youth partnerships. Here we have groups representing the interests of delinquency prevention, missing children, and volunteers, not to mention those of youth advocacy and law enforcement organizations. A broad range of missions trained on a single focal point.
Second, it bears out what many communities have known—and tried to tell us—all along: that the best way to tackle the problem of crime and delinquency is by linking the key stakeholders. It's not always as easy as it sounds, I admit.
Sometimes our busy schedules make it a challenge for us to cultivate partnerships. Sometimes, unfortunately, a bad experience or a history of mistrust prevents us from reaching out to potential allies. Sometimes, personality is the barrier. As I heard one exasperated partner say, "It ain't rocket science, and that's too bad. It would be a lot easier than dealing with all these egos."
But very often, forming partnerships is a simple matter. In many cases, it's just a matter of picking up the phone or knocking on a door. To borrow a phrase from our friends in the faith community, "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
In the Office of Justice Programs, we've been knocking on a lot of doors lately. And the doors have been flying open.
A prime example of success in building partnerships is the good we have been able to accomplish on behalf of abducted children. I'm sure you're all familiar with the excellent work of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one of our cosponsors here. The National Center has been a leader in our endeavor to understand the dynamics and scope of child abduction, and, indeed, of child abuse generally. It has also been one of the principals in a relatively recent national effort to respond to the abduction of children known as AMBER Alert.
For those of you not familiar with it, AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. Basically, AMBER is an alert system that works through law enforcement, the broadcast media, transportation agencies, and other outlets to quickly recover abducted children.
It began, like so many good things, as an idea voiced by community residents. It was back in the winter of 1996, and the residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area were suffering the shock of the death of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman. While riding her bicycle through the streets of Arlington, a Dallas suburb, Amber was kidnapped in broad daylight—and in full view of witnesses—and later found brutally murdered.
People there were outraged at both the brutality and the brazenness of the crime, and wanted to make sure that nothing like this ever happened again. So they began calling local radio stations, not simply to vent that outrage, but to suggest ways of preventing future abductions.
Broadcasters took their suggestions seriously, and teamed up with local police to develop an early warning system for just that purpose. And thus was born AMBER Alert.
Two years ago, at the behest of President Bush, I had the honor of being appointed by Attorney General Ashcroft as the National AMBER Alert Coordinator. In that role, I'm charged with helping to coordinate AMBER Alert plans across the country. The ultimate goal is to create a seamless network of AMBER plans covering all states and localities.
We in the Office of Justice Programs are working to promote partnerships like the one in Dallas by providing training and guidance on the implementation of AMBER plans. The 48 contiguous states and Alaska all have statewide plans in placeBup from only 8 two years agoBand a number of localities and regions have developed their own plans.
We've achieved remarkable success with AMBER since we began to coordinate our efforts nationally. In the six years of its existence prior to coordination, AMBER was responsible for 34 safe recoveries. In the two years since, we've brought home 135 children—80 percent of our successes in 25 percent of the time. I don't know of a more powerful testament to the value of working together.
And if numbers aren't proof enough of the critical importance of coordination, you need only consider some of the AMBER success stories. Stories like the one involving a 12-year-old Florida girl who was lured from her home by a registered sex offender. Georgia activated its AMBER Alert system when it was learned that the suspect and child may have crossed the border. The FBI received a tip that they were seen in a hotel in Douglas County, Georgia, and authorities were shortly at the scene. The suspect was arrested and the child safely returned to her family.
And there's the story of the five-year-old girl in Topeka, Kansas who was taken by her father after he had murdered her mother. Authorities thought the suspect was heading to the northwest and requested that Nebraska activate its AMBER Alert system. A truck driver heard the Alert, spotted the stolen car, and called law enforcement. Eventually, a sheriff's deputy caught up with the car near Laramie, Wyoming. The man killed himself, but the girl was safely recovered.
You can see why AMBER is so important. These children were in imminent danger, and it took close cooperation among multiple states to bring them home safely. I shudder to think what might have happened in each case were it not for this ability to coordinate.
And young people have helped to save the lives of other young people through AMBER Alert. This month, in Oregon, and 11-year-old boy was taken by his mother's boyfriend. The man was known to be armed, so an AMBER Alert was issued. That afternoon, a young boy hunting with friends noticed a man and a boy about his age sitting in a truck in the area. When the boy returned home, he heard the AMBER Alert and recognized the people he had seen as the subjects of the Alert. Authorities were notified, and the child was safely reunited with his mother.
But we're always seeking to expand our alliance. Transportation agencies came quickly on board and have been invaluable partners. They have used electronic billboards, or what they call "changeable message signs," to alert motorists to child abductions. In fact, many of our successes can be attributed to the messages posted on those signs.
And, most recently, we've enlisted the help of the private sector. The National Center has entered into agreements with communications companies to tap their substantial clientele. We can now rely on groups like NEXTEL and America Online to send alerts to their users, giving us a direct line to the community residents who are our best source of assistance in recovering abducted children.
What a formidable alliance! Law enforcement, broadcasting, transportation, communications companies, and citizens. It's no wonder that we hear about abductors giving up in mid-flight. What chance do they have against an entire community or state, or, as in two of the examples I shared with you, against several states?
No doubt about it, AMBER is working, and working well. And it's working because agencies and groups are thinking outside the box, breaking down old barriers, and reaching out to each other to close public safety gaps.
Team building is the cornerstone of our foundation at the Office of Justice Programs. With every program we administer, we look to find ways of building partnerships. Whether it be a victim assistance program tapping resources in the faith community; a research program linking the academic community with practitioners; or a violence prevention program bringing together a wide range of public and private organizations; we know that we have a much better chance of reducing and preventing crime if the full complement of stakeholders is at the table, planning strategically to solve problems.
That's why we have created the Community Capacity Development Office, or CCDO. CCDO takes the lessons we've learned from effective community-based programs like Weed and Seed initiative B now 13 years old and going strong B and applies them broadly to other crime fighting and community building efforts.
We established CCDO, not to serve as another funding component of our agency, or even to subsume any of the long-established grant programs administered by our various bureaus. Rather, we established it so that we might better respond to the dynamic and often unique needs of individual communities.
The federal government can't solve your problems, but we can help you plan strategically, collaborate widely, and leverage resources intelligently. That's the business of CCDO.
CCDO will direct you to funding resources, training opportunities, and information. It will put you in touch with other communities so that you can learn how they have overcome obstacles. And it will provide guidance—offering suggestions, based on experience, on how to maximize partnerships for strategic planning.
CCDO is applying the lessons we have learned from the more than 300 Weed and Seed communities across the country. Perhaps the most important lesson is that communities need to be expansive and inclusive in their efforts. And one group that must always be tapped is youth. There is, after all, no better place to start in revitalizing a community than with its young people.
Partnerships with citizens, youths and adults, are integral to a number of specific OJP initiatives. One such program is Project Safe Neighborhoods. When he announced it three years ago, President Bush called for "a national strategy to assure that every community is attacking gun violence with focus and intensity." In other words, he was telling us to be strategic, to be resourceful, and this above all, to thine own community be collaborative.
Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, U.S. Attorneys sit down with local law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community leaders to diagnose the unique problems associated with gun violence in their jurisdictions, then work side by side with them to attack those problems.
The objective is to link existing local programs that target gun crime and provide those programs with the additional tools they need to be successful. Its goal is to help communities move quickly to put gun-wielding criminals behind bars, and to send a message that they will be dealt with firmly.
Project Safe Neighborhoods has helped state and local governments hire almost 600 new gun prosecutors in areas with a high incidence of gun violence. And we're providing funding to hire more federal gun prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, and promote efforts to involve residents in becoming agents of change.
The Administration has devoted more than $1 billion to PSN, much of it coming from OJP. Almost $50 million has gone to states and localities to support a PSN component called Project Sentry. Project Sentry targets gun crime involving juveniles, seeking both to deter gun crime and to enhance prosecutions of juvenile offenders and adults who illegally furnish youth with firearms.
Gun violence has an especially strong—and deadly—impact on youth. Despite the fact that violent crime, including gun crime, is at record lows B the lowest it has been in 30 years B in 2001, 44 percent of murdered juveniles were killed with a firearm.
And lest we assume too readily that the potential for incidents of gun violence in our schools is remote, consider that almost 3,000 students were expelled in 1999 and 2000 for bringing guns to school. Furthermore, if you think that older kids alone are responsible, consider that 43 percent of the violators were in elementary or junior high school.
Project Safe Neighborhoods and Project Sentry are reaching out to kids and teaching them to reject, and even help to prevent, gun violence. PSN programs like SHOT in Jefferson County, Arkansas are going into schools to bring the message of responsibility to young people.
Through SHOT, which stands for See It, Hear It, Tell It, the Pine Bluff Police Department provides fourth, fifth, and sixth graders an interactive education on the dangers of gun violence. It's one of many efforts around the country designed to prevent illegal firearms from causing irreparable harm.
But Project Safe Neighborhoods is not only about teaching responsibility and holding offenders accountable. It's also about protecting citizens, both from malicious acts and from the inadvertent or inexpert use of firearms.
In many cases, gun violence is committed with no criminal intent. Americans are victims of 10,000 accidental shootings every year, 800 of which result in death. And many times, a too-available gun is an agent of self destruction, very often with young people. 1,300 children every year use a firearm to end their own lives.
So another Project Safe Neighborhoods component, known as Project ChildSafe, is working to keep loaded guns out of the hands of children. Project ChildSafe partners with governors, U.S. Attorneys, mayors, and local law enforcement agencies across the country to distribute gun locks free of charge to gun owners and to promote firearm safety.
We've put $80 million into this program, and it's bearing fruit. Under its first phase, we distributed 20 million safety kits, including gun locks, to communities in all 50 states. And we've just begun a second phase, through which we expect to distribute an additional 12 million locks.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, like AMBER Alert, is drawing on the strengths of partnerships among law enforcement and other community stakeholders. And like AMBER, it is serving young people. But we should not see partnerships solely as a way of serving youth. We should see them as a way of involving youth.
The Office of Justice Programs is helping communities establish a meaningful connection between youth and community agencies, especially law enforcement. One of the richest examples of this link is mentoring. An evaluation found that youth who have a mentoring relationship are 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to use alcohol. The study also found that these young people are one-third less likely to act out aggressively with others and are truant only about half as often as other youth.
Unfortunately, far too many children do not have a positive adult role model. But groups like Boys and Girls Clubs and the Police Athletic League are moving to fill this dire need. Law enforcement agencies, too, are doing their part. Under our Juvenile Mentoring Program, or JUMP, law enforcement agencies are supplying mentors to at-risk youth in a number of communities.
A good example of law enforcement mentoring is the Cops-for-Children program in Fort Pierce, Florida. Under that initiative, a child is matched with an officer who contacts the student before, during, and after school. The mentor's goal is to keep the mentee in school and prevent delinquent behavior. The program also offers a mini-policing academy during summer vacation that addresses drugs and gangs, conflict resolution, problem solving, and a host of other topics.
The role of law enforcement officers as educators is an important one, and one that OJP strives to promote. Since 1979, our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has supported a national law-related education program. Known by its official title, Youth for Justice, the program helps youth build knowledge and skills and avoid delinquent behavior by teaching them about the law, legal processes, and the principles fundamental to our democracy.
The program works by building self esteem and by cultivating respect for those whose job it is to protect the public. A survey of more than 2,000 students showed that only 26 percent held a favorable opinion of police officers, and that 25 percent believed that police officers did not like young people.
Students who move through the law-related education program change their perceptions. As one student put it: "I was brought up hating the police. . . . The program has given me a whole new view of police officers and law enforcement in general."
Law enforcement also is playing a pivotal role in the development of youth courts. In youth courts, adolescent boys and girls assume the roles in the courtroom—from jury to prosecuting and defense attorneys to judge. The purpose is to provide for first-time, non-violent offenders a diversion away from formal and costly judicial proceedings, while at the same time providing constructive consequences for delinquent behavior.
Youth courts offer a number of benefits for those directly involved. They teach young people respect for the law. They help offenders understand the impact of their actions on others. They provide a built-in education in civics. And they offer a rare opportunity at an early developmental stage to experience both the grave responsibility of judging others' conduct and the exhilaration of being able to make a positive difference in their lives.
More than 1,000 youth court programs are in operation across the country, and a third of them are administered by law enforcement. And they are making a difference.
Two years ago, OJP and the Urban Institute released the results of the first National Youth Court Evaluation. It showed that in Alaska, offenders who participated in the youth court program were re-referred to the juvenile justice system in only six percent of cases, compared with 23 percent of those handled by the juvenile justice system.
In Arizona, 9 percent of youth court cases recidivated versus 15 percent in the comparison group.
And in Missouri, the recidivism rate was 9 percent for youth court participants and 27 percent for those who came out of the traditional system.
By giving young people a voice and a chance, youth courts are teaching responsibility and changing behavior. And law enforcement has been a key player in that transformation.
Whether as facilitators, educators, or mentors, law enforcement officers are helping young people turn their lives around. And in so doing, they're mining a rich vein of crime prevention gems, and preparing young people to become responsible, contributing adult members of society.
As adults, we have a responsibility to our youth—to protect them and to help them become all that they can be. The best way to fulfill that responsibility is to give them responsibility. Show them what it means to be productive members of society, and teach them what it involves. And in the process, they can help us understand how to make the future brighter for all our communities.
And to our youth, I say: teach us, as well. There's an old saying that the student is mentor to the teacher B and it is absolutely true. There is much we all have to learn from their idealism; their enthusiasm; their curiosity; their value system; and their fresh outlook on the world.
Together, we will build a better future for today's youth, their children, and their children's children.