Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Association of Attorneys General 2006 Spring Meeting
March 7, 2006
Thank you, Attorney General Carter. Good morning.
I'd like to thank the National Association of Attorneys General for inviting me to speak. Our mission at the Office of Justice Programs is to support states and communities in their work to prevent and reduce crime. We consider the attorneys general to be vital partners in those efforts, and I want to thank each of you for the great job you do.
I also want to commend NAAG for its work with the Justice Department through the Executive Working Group on Prosecutorial Relations. I appreciate that we have this mechanism for communicating with each other, because an open and ongoing dialogue is the best way to ensure that we're coordinating and maximizing our resources.
Our work with and support of attorneys general and with prosecutors extend into almost every area of criminal justice. But I'd like to spend my time today talking about just a few of the issues that I see as especially timely and important. And I'm pleased to note that many of these issues are items that you've identified as critical and that NAAG is working to address.
The first of these is the joint scourge of guns and gangs.
I'm sure each of you is familiar with Project Safe Neighborhoods. Project Safe Neighborhoods is the cornerstone of the Administration's crime-fighting efforts. Its focus, of course, is on reducing gun violence. And here we've been very successful.
Since the program was initiated, federal firearms prosecutions have increased 76%. In 2004, the last year for which we have statistics, 93% of defendants charged with federal firearms offenses were convicted and sentenced. Three-quarters were sentenced to terms of more than three years.
This success is due, not just to more vigorous federal efforts, but to greater cooperation between state attorneys general, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and others at all levels.
Project Safe Neighborhoods has achieved the ultimate goal in many communities, namely, a reduction in crime. Thanks in great part to the 540 state and local gun crime prosecutors hired under PSN, gun criminals are being removed from the streets all across the country and put behind bars.
An important component of Project Safe Neighborhoods is Project Sentry. Project Sentry is the element of the program that focuses on reducing juvenile gun violence. Under Project Sentry, we've awarded $20 million to 37 communities around the country. That money has been used to hire prosecutors and to fund programs aimed at reducing juvenile gun crime.
We've seen some very successful Project Sentry programs. For example, Project Ceasefire in Kansas City, Missouri links prosecutors, law enforcement officers, the clergy, school personnel, and outreach workers to provide job training, academic tutoring, and other services to youth. More than 75% of participants in that program have stayed crime-free.
Last year, Congress did not fund Project Sentry, so we devised a gap funding program to continue supporting the districts in greatest need.
Likewise, for this fiscal year, the President had requested $74 million for Project Safe Neighborhoods as a whole, but we were only appropriated $15 million. We're working to make sure the resources we did get will be available to states and communities.
For FY 2007, the President has requested almost $166 million for Project Safe Neighborhoods, which incorporates our highly successful Weed and Seed program and includes assistance to communities in fighting gangs.
Speaking of gangs, combating gang activity is another of our priorities.
Last year, Attorney General Gonzales directed each of the U.S. Attorneys to designate an anti-gang coordinator who would work with state and local partners to develop an anti-gang strategy. Every federal district has now submitted a plan to fight gang violence. And I encourage you to keep in touch with the U.S. Attorney's Office in your district as those plans are carried out.
Cooperation between state, local, and federal agencies will be critical in executing anti-gang strategies. As we learned from the National Gang Threat Assessment, which our Bureau of Justice Assistance published last summer, gangs are becoming more sophisticated in how they operate. Having a focused, well-considered strategy to combat gangs is crucial.
Stemming the tide of drugs is another priority of the Justice Department. As with gangs, we're being faced with new and deadly challenges in fighting drugs. One of the biggest challenges – and it's one that you're all well aware of – is the spread of methamphetamine.
According to the most recent data, 583,000 people are “current users” of meth, meaning that they report having used meth within the previous 30 days. Some 1.4 million people report having used meth within the last year. That's almost four times the number of heroin users in the United States. Sixty percent of counties rank meth as their biggest drug problem.
Attorney General Gonzales has made fighting meth one of his top priorities. Last August, the Justice Department teamed up with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services to launch a Web site that helps in fighting the spread of meth.
MethResources.gov provides a host of resources on issues ranging from enforcement to clean-up to drug-endangered children. It also provides information on state laws designed to prevent and reduce meth use.
For our part, OJP is helping to support training and technical assistance for criminal justice practitioners.
Of course, states are responding to the problem by passing laws that make it harder for meth makers to get the ingredients they need. I understand that 29 states have passed such laws. And, as you know, Congress is now considering similar action. I appreciate your recent joint letter expressing support of Congressional action to address this problem.
As you may know, the conference report for the PATRIOT Act includes provisions for combating meth. The legislation provides for the training of state and local prosecutors and for the investigation and prosecution of meth offenses. It also includes several provisions aimed at preventing the spread of meth. Those provisions would improve regulation of meth precursors, and they also provide for grants to help children affected by meth.
We applaud Congress for taking up the problem of meth, and we look forward to continuing our work with attorneys general and prosecutors nationwide in fighting meth use.
Possibly the most important development in investigating and solving crimes is the application of DNA and DNA technology.
Under the President's DNA Initiative, OJP has thus far awarded more than $200 million to states and localities to enhance the use of DNA. Those funds have gone to help eliminate DNA backlogs, expand crime lab capacity, conduct research, test convicted offenders, identify missing persons, and train justice system practitioners. The President has requested an additional $176 million for the initiative next year.
We've seen remarkable success as a result of our work with states and communities, especially in solving violent crimes. We're now working to expand the application of DNA to other, non-violent crimes.
Data from our Bureau of Justice Statistics show that property crime offenders have high rates of recidivism. They also show that the level of violence committed by these criminals often escalates.
Clearly, analysis of DNA from property crimes has important implications for solving violent crimes, and, by extension, for helping to prevent future crimes from occurring.
Last September, we awarded $2 million under a new DNA Expansion Demonstration Program to test the effectiveness of collecting DNA evidence in high-volume property crimes such as burglary. Funding went to support pilot projects in five jurisdictions – Los Angeles, Denver , Phoenix , Topeka , and Orange County, California . The results will be evaluated after 18 months, and we'll share the results with you when they become available.
I want to touch on one final issue that is of concern to all of us: that is, the crime of identity theft.
Identity theft is a huge problem. It affects more than 10 million Americans every year. In January, the Federal Trade Commission released its annual report on consumer fraud complaints. Identity theft topped the list, with three times the number of complaints as the runner-up.
A survey of prosecutors' offices funded by our National Institute of Justice shows that prosecutors are focusing greater energy on identity theft because they recognize its implications for homeland security.
We're working to provide support and research that will improve our response to identity theft. A project with the Ohio Attorney General's Office is using biometric technology to reduce I.D. theft. This project helps victims by giving them an electronic passport that can be placed in a database and shared between law enforcement agencies across the state.
Moreover, last year, we invested more than $10 million in programs to advance the use of biometrics in protecting identities and providing for America's defense.
And we're working to measure the impact of identity theft. Next month, our Bureau of Justice Statistics will release a report detailing the incidence and characteristics of identity theft crimes. We look forward to sharing the findings with you.
I appreciate the efforts of attorneys general around the country to raise awareness of this issue. I know that many of you sponsored and participated in activities during National Consumer Protection Week in February. I applaud you for your leadership in this important fight against fraud.
I've addressed some of the major efforts that have benefited from OJP's link with state attorneys general. We have, of course, many other junction points.
For example, our work to serve victims has been a mutual endeavor, as many of your offices administer your states' victim compensation and victim assistance programs.
We're also working with states to protect residents from sexual predators. The National Sex Offender Public Registry, which we launched last July, now includes links to the public registries of 48 states, D.C., and Guam.
And we're working together to protect children from harm. And here, I'd like to put in a word of thanks to NAAG for including the Wireless AMBER Alerts icon on its Web site.
We've also been talking to Lynne Ross about a request from the attorneys general to set up a workshop on OJP resources. We should be able to plan that later in the year. We'll keep you posted.
I hope that we can continue to build on this mutual support, and that we can find new ways to work together to reduce and prevent crime in your states.
I appreciate your time, your commitment, and your hard work on behalf of public safety.