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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Narcotic Officers' Associations Coalition
Board of Delegates Meeting
Washington, DC
February 9, 2009

Thank you, Ron. It's a pleasure to be here.

I'm taking on again a role I played for seven years under President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, only this time in an acting capacity. I agreed to serve as Acting Assistant Attorney General because the issues that the Office of Justice Programs deals with - particularly its support of law enforcement - are so important to me, and I wanted to do my part to help Attorney General Holder during the transition.

When I served as Assistant Attorney General back in the 90s, your organization was still young, fighting to keep Byrne funding alive. You've been fighting very hard over the last eight years. I want to thank you for all you do, for your advocacy.

Let me also tell you that your message has been heard and that your views are very much shared by this Administration. Throughout his campaign, President Obama talked about the importance of giving full support to our law enforcement officers. He even went so far as to say that, quote, "protecting citizens is our first and most solemn duty in government."

Those aren't idle words, either. The president believes that the Byrne JAG program is the cornerstone of federal law enforcement assistance, and he has made a commitment to restoring funding so that law enforcement officers can do their jobs.

This commitment is shared by everyone in this Administration. Vice President Biden, who as senator was one of the original authors of the Crime Bill that created the COPS program back in '94 and fought to restore Byrne JAG funding, has - as you know - a long-standing and passionate interest in the concerns of law enforcement. I don't need to tell you that!

And these issues are near and dear to the Attorney General as well. I know Eric Holder well from the years we worked together in the Reno Justice Department. The Attorney General is a veteran prosecutor, not to mention, of course, a veteran of the Justice Department, and he fully understands and appreciates the need for full federal assistance to law enforcement. He will fight to restore funding for Byrne JAG. He and I have personally discussed it on a number of occasions going back to last year.

You may or may not know where things stand at the moment. The latest version of the stimulus package is still being considered by the Senate. The House version includes $3 billion over 2 years and another $1 billion for COPS. The current Senate version, which has been renegotiated over the last several days, includes a total of $3.5 billion to support law enforcement efforts: $1.2 billion is set aside for Byrne JAG formula grants; $1 billion for COPS; another $150 million to help rural law enforcement fight crime, especially drug-related crime. There's also $300 million in competitive criminal justice funding, including national, regional, and local law enforcement programs.

Assuming the bill passes the Senate, the next step is for the House and Senate to conference. I don't want to speculate on where things will lead, but I will say that I'm very encouraged that Congress is serious about its commitment to funding law enforcement.

I'll also say that we're working inside the Department to be ready for the day - hopefully very soon - that a bill is passed and signed. We don't want that money sitting in the Treasury a day longer than it should be when it could be used to help you fight crime. We want to be careful and responsible, but we want to get the money out the door as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we're moving forward in a number of areas that impact you.

NNOAC has been a close partner with our Bureau of Justice Assistance through CenTF and RISS. Both these programs have helped to link agencies and ensure that decision-makers have the information and communication tools they need to manage challenges like narcotics trafficking.

These efforts will continue to be very important, especially as you address the link between drugs and gangs. The recent National Gang Threat Assessment underscores how strong that link is.

  • We know from that report that gang membership is up significantly (from 800,000 in 2005 to 1 million in 2008).
  • Almost 60 percent of law enforcement agencies reported that criminal gangs were active in their jurisdictions.
  • And we know that gangs are behind a tremendous amount of the drug problems in communities - not only are they the primary retail-level distributors, they're also increasing their wholesale-level distribution in most urban and suburban communities.

These are concerning trends, and they underscore the need for the multijurisdictional drug task forces that JAG supports. For example, in nearby Maryland, the Maryland State Police used JAG funds to establish a statewide narcotics task force operation. This allowed officers to use a GPS-based surveillance system to covertly track drug couriers and dealers moving across the state.

We're also excited about a new program that's designed to shut down open-air drug markets. Many of you are familiar with it, I'm sure. We call it the Drug Market Intervention Initiative. You might know it as the High Point/West End Initiative, from the city where it was pioneered.

Basically, it's an approach that gives offenders the option of straightening up or facing lengthy prison sentences. Law enforcement targets the most violent offenders for prosecution, then goes to lower-level offenders and says, "This is what will happen to you if you don't get your act straight."

To give you an example of how it worked in High Point, North Carolina, police would round up young dealers and show videotapes of them dealing drugs, then let them know that their cases were being prepared for indictment, which of course would mean hard time in prison. Then they'd let them go.

So these young dealers would get the message that law enforcement was on to them, and that if they didn't change their tune, they were on track for prison. On the other hand, if they did change their ways, there was help for them in the form of things like mentoring and job training.

It worked wonders in High Point. Violent crime dropped 57 percent in the target area. It's also changed the relationship between law enforcement and residents. Several other cities have tried a similar approach and met with success.

Our Bureau of Justice Assistance is now providing training to other locations throughout the country on implementing this strategy. We think it has great potential because it isn't just about locking people away, which is not a viable or affordable long-term solution in any case. It's about breaking the cycle of drugs and crime and giving people, especially young people, a chance to remedy their mistakes.

We're also focused on helping law enforcement agencies tackle the problem of meth. Law enforcement has done a good job of addressing this problem, particularly in light of how toxic and dangerous meth is.

That's helped to drive down large-scale trafficking from Mexico. Unfortunately, local domestic production has moved in to restore supply in some areas, so there may actually be an increase in meth availability, depending on the area. The most recent National Drug Threat Assessment found that meth is the second leading drug threat behind cocaine. And county law enforcement officials rank meth as their number one drug problem. We also know from a recent study from the RAND Corporation that meth generates about $4.2 billion in crime and criminal justice costs a year.

OJP supports training and technical assistance for law enforcement on fighting meth. We also have a project to help county governments respond to the meth epidemic. That project will provide online trainings and teleconferences and will identify promising approaches to responding to meth.

A comprehensive list of resources and training opportunities from across the government and across the country is available at MethResources.gov. If you haven't already, I'd encourage you to visit that site.

Information sharing is a big part of fighting meth, and narcotics trafficking generally. I know your organization works closely with the six RISS centers, which have been critical in helping law enforcement agencies share drug intelligence.

We also continue to actively explore ways to improve law enforcement data sharing through the National Information Exchange Model and through the development of fusion centers to speed the flow of criminal intelligence.

Our Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is another good example of our information sharing efforts. We're working to help build the capacity of regulatory and law enforcement agencies to collect and analyze prescription drug data and curb the abuse of prescription drugs, which has been on the rise among youth.

So these are a few of our current efforts while we await action from Congress. But know that the Obama Administration and the Department of Justice are fully committed to giving you the resources you need to fight drugs and crime in your communities. And the Office of Justice Programs is poised to make sure that, as the resources become available, we will get them out to you as quickly as possible.

We have a new Attorney General in Eric Holder who is a committed former U.S. Attorney and local judge, who has worked closely with local law enforcement and counts many among his friends - as I do. Eric and I could not be happier to be back at Justice and to be working with courageous men and women like you.

Thank you for your time, thank you for your good work, and I look forward to working with you in the days and weeks ahead.

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