Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Fraternal Order of Police Annual Conference - Post-Conference Board Meeting
August 17, 2007
Thank you, Chuck. I appreciate that introduction.
It’s good to be here in Louisville among friends. The Fraternal Order of Police has been a steadfast ally of OJP and the Department of Justice, and I want to thank all of you for the support you’ve given us in our efforts to fight crime and protect America’s communities. In particular, thanks for the support you have given me.
I want to take the opportunity to say a special word of thanks to Chuck for his leadership at FOP, and for his good work as a member of the Medal of Valor review board. And let me be among the first to congratulate him on his re-election. I know I speak for all of OJP and the Department when I say that it was well-deserved. Chuck, we look forward to continuing to work with you.
Let me also thank the executive board. And a special shout-out to my good friend Jim Pasco. You have all stood behind me, the Department, and the Administration, and you recognize that we are working hard on behalf of law enforcement officers across the country. That means a lot to me and to the Attorney General, and I want to thank you for all your support.
It’s been a busy last few months at the Office of Justice Programs. We received our 2007 budget appropriations much later than usual, and we’re now working feverishly to get that money out the door. It’s nice to be out from under the crush of grants for a day.
I wanted to take just a few moments of your time to talk to you about some of the things we’re doing on behalf of law enforcement. Our efforts fall into two categories: Those things we’re doing to support law enforcement officers as they protect communities, and those things we’re doing to protect law enforcement officers themselves.
Under the former category – helping to protect communities – is the funding we will provide to fight violent crime.
We’re very concerned about the recent spike in crime rates in some cities. Although the uptick is neither universal nor dramatic, it is in evidence in places, and that’s enough for the Department and OJP to re-focus our attention.
Last winter, as I’m sure you know, Attorney General Gonzales directed Justice Department officials to visit 18 cities to hear from law enforcement officials and community leaders about the problems they are facing. Not surprisingly, we heard that every community faces unique challenges. But we also heard some common experiences – the high incidence of violence committed by loosely organized street gangs, the prevalence of guns in the hands of criminals, the trending of youthfulness in violent crimes.
This information was enough for us to act. We’re making 125 million dollars available to state and local governments and law enforcement agencies to fight crime. Since the issues that we’ve identified are so complex, collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies is critical. So a particular focus of this program is on multi-level law enforcement task forces.
As part of this effort, through Project Safe Neighborhoods we’ve made available almost 50 million dollars to target gun and gang crime. In addition, we’re providing comprehensive anti-gang training for state and local law enforcement, and our PSN partners continue to offer training and technical assistance on gun and gang crime enforcement, prosecution, and prevention.
I believe that our mission to protect communities is inseparable from our commitment to protecting law enforcement officers themselves. As Assistant Attorney General, I have remained focused on making sure that officers have the protection they need and that their families are taken care of.
Under our Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, we continue to provide death benefits and education assistance for families of officers who have fallen in the line of duty. We also provide disability benefits for officers who have been permanently disabled in the line of duty.
In 2006, the PSOB program approved 307 claims from survivors of public safety officers, totaling more than 52 million dollars. It also awarded 3.8 million dollars to officers who were permanently disabled and more than 880 thousand dollars in educational benefits to almost
300 children and spouses.
As Attorney General Gonzales mentioned earlier this week, we’re working to make the program even more responsive to officers’ families. In addition to the online application system, we are working with FOP and other law enforcement groups to improve outreach and education on the PSOB program. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance is supporting partnership teams to provide information to agencies unfamiliar with the PSOB process, as well as to survivors themselves.
We’ve also hired additional attorneys and claims officers to help deal with the provisions of the Hometown Heroes Act and to sort out legal issues without unduly delaying the process. And we have been meeting with national fire and law enforcement associations, local public safety agencies, and Members of Congress to brief them on implementation of Hometown Heroes.
I’m committed to ensuring that public safety officers and their dependents who are eligible for PSOB benefits receive them. And we are working with Congress and our stakeholder groups to make certain that the program is responsive to officers and their families.
I know the dangers that law enforcement officers face as they patrol our streets and safeguard our neighborhoods, and I want to be sure that we are giving them full protection from those dangers. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund just released a report showing that law enforcement officer deaths rose sharply during the first six months of 2007. For the first time in three decades, more than 100 officer deaths were recorded by the halfway point of this year. This is a tragic trend, and it is unacceptable to us.
Our Body Armor Safety Initiative represents a full-fledged effort on our part to reverse this trend. When we issued an alert several years ago that a bullet-resistant vest worn by Forest Hills Police Officer Edward Limbacher had failed to prevent penetration from a bullet it was designed to defeat, we acted quickly to investigate the cause. Our National Institute of Justice, working with the Office of Law Enforcement Standards at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, conducted extensive research into the potential causes of degradation in Zylon-based armor.
When we discovered that Zylon is vulnerable to certain environmental factors, we issued a notice to law enforcement agencies and released new compliance requirements. We also issued a special solicitation under our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program to help law enforcement agencies with their vest replacement needs.
Over the last two years, NIJ has been working with NIST to get technical input from industry, public safety, and laboratory officials on modifications to the body armor compliance testing program. We expect to introduce the next revision to the standards, and a revised testing program, later this year. The new program will, for the first time, address the ongoing performance of armor models, and it will change some of the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the testing process.
In the meantime, we continue to closely monitor body armor for its compliance with program requirements. You’re aware of our recent determination that a model manufactured by Pinnacle is not in compliance. We will continue our rigorous testing to ensure that the armor that officers are wearing does what it is intended to do – keep them safe from harm.
These are a few of our recent activities that I thought would be of interest to you. Of course, we continue to support law enforcement’s work in many other ways.
My focus remains on giving law enforcement the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and safely. Those who protect our communities deserve to know that we in the federal government are doing our best to support them, and their families.
This is my last opportunity to address you as Assistant Attorney General. I want to leave by letting you know how much I have appreciated and valued your support. The Fraternal Order of Police has been a vital partner of the Department of Justice, and you, its leaders, have done its members proud by being a strong and clear voice for law enforcement officers across the country.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to continuing our work together.