Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Crime Prevention Council Conference
New Orleans, LA
October 10, 2005
Thank you, Al. It's a pleasure to be here.
Happy 25th Birthday, McGruff.
Twenty five years is a long life for an ad campaign. But I think we'd all agree that the National Crime Prevention Campaign is no ordinary campaign. It's a crime-fighting tool in its own right.
We owe its longevity to a group of people who have been able to adapt to the changing face of crime in America. The common-sense messages the campaign promoted two-and-a-half decades ago still apply, but we've learned that preventing crime today is not always so intuitive.
The folks at NCPC and the Ad Council, and the groups that make up the Crime Prevention Coalition of America, have had the agility to match their vision, and our country has benefited enormously. My thanks to them for their outstanding work and unflagging commitment.
OJP has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with NCPC. As we watch the crime rate continue its decline, I feel comfortable giving much of the credit to our efforts in prevention. And NCPC has been in the vanguard of those efforts.
Thanks to NCPC, three-quarters of the American public believes and understands that they can help prevent crime. 76% of 9- to 11-year-olds recognize McGruff and consider him a trusted and helpful friend.
We've discovered over the years that crime is nothing if not a moving target. And criminals are famous for their adaptability. Take the problem of gangs.
We're used to thinking of gangs as ethnically homogenous groups of teen-agers and young adults who live in impoverished urban neighborhoods and whose crimes are characterized by senseless violence.
Early this summer, though, our Bureau of Justice Assistance published the National Gang Threat Assessment, which surveyed gang investigators across the nation. That report gave us a starkly different picture of gangs and their members.
For one, it showed us that gangs are no longer confined to crowded urban centers. They're proliferating in rural areas as well.
Second, it told us that national or ethnic affiliation is not necessarily a common denominator in gang membership.
Third, it confirmed that gang members are no longer readily identifiable by colors, tattoos, and other outward signs.
Fourth, we learned that gangs are exploiting technology to commit crimes like fraud and identity theft.
Finally - and perhaps most disturbing of allwe saw that gang members are younger and younger, as gang leaders are having success recruiting from middle and even elementary schools.
In short, gang life and gang methods have changed with the times. And all our assumptions about gangs and the way they operate are being re-evaluated.
The problem of gangs is one of those moving targets that we in the criminal justice and prevention fields have to deal with. But by no means is it the only one.
I mentioned identity theft as a gang trend. Of course, it's a general criminal trend - and an enormous public safety problem - as well.
I.D. theft affects more than 10 million Americans every year. So chances are you know someone who's been a victim.
These are people who've had bank accounts wiped out, credit histories ruined, jobs and valuable possessions taken away. In some cases, they've been arrested for crimes that they weren't even aware of.
Take the story of an Ohio victim we'll call "Mary." After being pulled over for a minor traffic violation, "Mary" was arrested and her car was impounded. She had to go to court to prove her innocence. She was later sued by a couple whom her imposter hit while driving, and she eventually had her driving privileges suspended. And to top it all off, "Mary" learned that the imposter had used her name and Social Security Number when the imposter was arrested for shoplifting.
"Mary" continues to deal with the repercussions of having her identity stolen. Unfortunately, her story is not unusual. The financial toll, the emotional turmoil, the feeling of being violated, can be crippling.
I'm grateful that NCPC and our prevention partners have been so active in helping citizens learn how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. Through support from our Bureau of Justice Assistance, NCPC has reached out to the public through PSAs, a very useful guide for consumers, and law enforcement and community training.
And I'd like to thank the National Association of Broadcasters and the Plowshare Group for being such active supporters and partners. I understand that, through their help, the PSAs have received more than $2.3 million in donated media and almost 6,000 airings on broadcast and cable stations. That's an impressive yield.
Perpetrators of crimes like fraud and I.D. theft prey on the vulnerable. And one of the most vulnerable populations is our senior citizens. Here is another of those moving targets.
Seniors make up about 13% of the U.S. population, but about 37% of telemarketing fraud victims. As the population ages, and as technology proliferates, we can probably expect incidents of fraud - or at least attempted fraud - to rise.
Fraud hits senior citizens harder than others. More often than not, seniors live on fixed incomes. So loss of money means that they may go without food, medication, or other necessities.
Seniors are an attractive target for perpetrators because they tend to be more trusting and because they are often dependant on others for help. They also possess accumulated resources in the form of savings, pensions, and insurance.
But what can make fraud so devastating is that, very often, perpetrators of elder fraud are people known by the victims - caregivers, neighbors, even family members.
NCPC and OJP have worked together to address this growing problem. In April, our Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded a $1.2 million grant to NCPC for work to prevent telemarketing fraud and other scams against the elderly.
The project will study senior citizen attitudes and behaviors. It will develop and implement a media outreach plan, which will include television PSAs, a video news release, and newspaper features. And it will offer training to law enforcement on working with seniors.
The project will build on other efforts on behalf of senior citizens. Triad, for example, is a partnership between seniors, law enforcement, and community groups to strengthen connections between senior citizens and community resources.
Triad has helped senior citizens understand where real dangers lie, and it has given them information and resources they can use to keep themselves safe from harm. By building trust between citizens and law enforcement, Triad has been a model of how creating partnerships can be an effective crime prevention tool.
The third and final moving target I want to touch on is our youth.
We all recognize how vulnerable senior citizens are. Yet, in different ways, youth are just as vulnerable, if not more so.
It's a tired cliché that children are growing up faster than ever, but it's also a true one. New technologies and faster media channels carry information to kids in its rawest and most uncensored form. Parents sometimes have little or no chance to filter it. This puts us at a great disadvantage when it comes to heading off negative influences.
In OJP, we're working to help law enforcement and community organizations build a rapport with our youth so that they are able to recognize these influences and have the confidence to stay away from them.
I mentioned earlier the trends in gang activity. We're working to address those problems. Back in June, we awarded more than $24 million to support several anti-gang efforts. One of those is BJA's Gang Resistance Education and Training Program, or GREAT. The GREAT Program helps to prevent youth crime and gang involvement by fostering positive relationships between law enforcement and youth.
At the heart of the GREAT Program is a curriculum taught by law enforcement officers to elementary and middle-school students. Its goal is to help kids gain respect for the law and cultivate in them a desire to be good citizens.
Through initiatives like GREAT, the Safe Schools Healthy Students initiative, which is administered by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and youth mentoring programs, we're teaming up with law enforcement and community groups to build self-esteem, develop coping skills, and instill a sense of civic responsibility in our young people.
These efforts are part of the Helping America's Youth Initiative, which President Bush announced in his State of the Union address. Helping America's Youth is designed to help at-risk youth stay free of crime and drugs, and to give kids, in his words, "better options than apathy, or gangs, or jail."
At the end of this month, the First Lady will convene a White House Conference on Helping America's Youth. The initiative is front and center for the Attorney General, OJP, and other federal agencies.
NCPC's "Be Safe and Sound" program nicely complements our efforts by helping students, parents, teachers, and school administrators take measures to keep their schools safe. And its anti-bullying campaign has been very effective in helping to prevent school violence.
I have a four-year-old son at home who'll be starting kindergarten next year, so I'm personally grateful for NCPC's work to keep schools safe.
Crime is branching out in many different directions, thanks in part to better technology and easier access to information. Criminals are finding new ways to cause harm, and we must find new ways to prevent them. We must be on the offensive, not the defensive.
The work that NCPC and all of you are doing is making a difference. The crime rate is going down. The public is becoming more sophisticated about ways to prevent crime.
I commend you for your success, and I implore you to continue your work on behalf of the safety of America's communities and its citizens.