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

2010 Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
New Orleans, LA

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

       By this point, you've watched a steady parade of Justice Department officials make their way past this podium. My challenge - and my Deputy Mary Lou Leary's, after me - is to say something a little different! But first, I'd like to echo the words of thanks that you've heard from the Attorney General and others.

       One of the five prongs of the Justice Department's mission is to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime. This is my agency's - the Office of Justice Programs' - reason for being. As you probably know, OJP represents the Department's primary link with state and local criminal and juvenile justice practitioners around the country. And our leadership role is one we take very seriously.

       But we're also mindful that what we do in Washington doesn't count for much without your dedication and hard work. You've got the boots on the ground, and you're creating a well-worn path of innovation and effective approaches. We owe so much to your efforts.

       A critical part of our leadership responsibility is to make sure that what we know about what works - and what doesn't work - informs our decisions about how we distribute resources. That means taking research and the lessons you've taught us from the front lines and adapting them to the needs of today. We should celebrate our success - collectively - in reducing violent crime in this country. But we also have a responsibility as community and government leaders and public safety officials to stay ahead of the trends - to identify emerging problems and head them off.

       Of course, this is a lot easier than it sounds, because the challenges we're seeing don't always lend themselves to simple solutions. Take for example the problem of gangs, which you heard the Attorney General talk about. Gangs - particularly youth gangs - continue to be an intractable and, in many ways, inscrutable problem for many communities.

       PSN has given us a very healthy start in addressing gangs. I think we're moving in the right direction by building the capacity of law enforcement officers and prosecutors. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance at OJP has provided anti-gang training to some 4,200 sworn and non-sworn personnel through PSN, and additional trainings are scheduled going into next year.

       But gang violence - and youth violence generally - is a complex problem that requires more than effective enforcement and prosecution, as critical as those efforts are. We also need effective prevention programs that can keep at-risk youth from ever joining gangs and becoming delinquent. We need intervention strategies designed to separate kids from gangs.

       To be sure, we need targeted enforcement to suppress the most serious and chronic offenders. And we need viable reentry programs that will keep returning offenders from re-establishing former gang associations. In short, we know from research and experience that a comprehensive and dynamic approach that attacks the issue across disciplines and with a variety of targeted strategies can be successful.

       I think this is the next step in fighting gangs and other aspects of violent crime. We need to look at these issues as symptoms of deeply entrenched problems as much as isolated crimes that occur at single points in time. This is not a new idea in crime-fighting, of course, but it is an idea whose time has come.

       A good example of this approach is Chicago CeaseFire. CeaseFire uses prevention, intervention, and community mobilization strategies to reduce shootings and killings; some of its strategies are adapted from the public health field. For example, they use former offenders and gang members in much the same way a public health campaign uses outreach workers. These "violence interrupters," as they're called, look for opportunities to intervene in gang-related conflicts before they intensify.

       Research from our National Institute of Justice found that this approach reduced shootings by 16 to 28 percent in some sites. This kind of multi-discipline, research-based philosophy is strongly reflected in the Obama Administration's public safety agenda and in the Administration's 2011 budget.

       The Justice Department has already dedicated substantial resources to evidence-based crime-fighting approaches in areas such as youth gangs and gun markets, and Attorney General Holder has given strong backing to my priority initiative on Evidence Integration in OJP's policy and program work.

       For example, our Bureau of Justice Assistance is currently funding 10 sites under its Smart Policing Initiative. This program is rooted in promoting evidence-based practices, but it's also intended to encourage innovative strategies and approaches.

       Just to give an example, in Philadelphia, police are working with researchers at Temple University to address crime in several micro-hot spots, where crime is heavily concentrated. They're testing the effectiveness of three different approaches at 20 sites each, and comparing them with 20 control sites.

       The Philadelphia program takes its cue from what we know about "Hot Spots" or place-based policing. Dr. David Weisburd and others have done extensive research that shows that isolating small areas of high criminal activity is an incredibly effective and resource-savvy way to fight crime.

       I can't wait to see what this project reveals.

       President Obama's budget request for next year for the Justice Department includes significant funding for a variety of evidence-based, competitive programs designed to encourage data-driven, smart-on-crime strategies - along the lines of Smart Policing.

       For example, the Smart Probation initiative will build on evidence-based models like the Hawaii HOPE program - which was started by a former U.S. Attorney, Steve Alm, now a state judge in Honolulu.

       Without going into great detail, the philosophy behind the HOPE program is that swift, certain, and proportionate sanctions are more effective deterrents than stiff penalties that take a long time to be applied. A failed drug test or a "no show" with your probation officer can result in your going to jail within 48 hours. The sentence can be very short, but the speed of the disposition makes a big impression. Our NIJ-funded research shows a reduction in re-arrests of more than 50 percent.

       Programs like Smart Probation and Smart Policing can enable communities to tailor solutions to the problems they've identified.

       In the meantime, we remain committed to the philosophy of collaboration and community involvement. We've seen how well these approaches can work, and we know that the benefits extend beyond reducing crime.

       We need to continue to think expansively about the problem of crime and how to approach it. Thanks to PSN and other public safety partnerships, as well as what we know from research, we now have a base of knowledge and experience that we can use to set our crime-fighting agendas. Let's take advantage of that. Let's use what we know to inform our policies and programs. And let's not be afraid to look at our public safety efforts as a real opportunity to solve problems.

       A guiding principle for this Administration from the time Eric Holder walked in the door has been about partnership with state and local law enforcement and criminal justice. OJP is proud to play a central role in that work.

       So I thank you for your time, I applaud your commitment to public safety, and I look forward to our continued work together.


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