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

Bureau Of Justice Assistance
National Conference

Monday, December 6, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you so much, Jim - and I'm just thrilled to be here, especially with this great turnout!

       I want to join Jim in welcoming all of you to Washington. It's wonderful to see so many people here from so many states and communities - and from so many different disciplines. I think it's great that we're bringing together people from across the spectrum to address our shared challenges. That's one of the things BJA has done so well - and it's what we strive to do every day across OJP.

       You know, people ask me all the time why I came back to the Department of Justice last year. I actually loved the life I had teaching up at Penn - the interaction with the students, the chance to have time to reflect and write - it was great!

       Why come back to a job you'd already held for seven years? Well, one reason, as I watched from my "perch" at Penn, and followed the work of OJP and the Department, I worried about the strength of the connection and partnership between OJP and field - I felt OJP was losing its connection with its state, local, and tribal partners.

       So during the transition in 2008 and early 2009 - when Eric Holder was leaning on me to consider returning to the Department - one of the things that was luring me back was the chance to help restore that partnership with the field.

       And two things I'd emphasize here. First, that I was encouraged when I did come back to OJP to discover that BJA staff had been doing their best - all along - to maintain their links with the field. I was very heartened by that, and the work that was ongoing. And, second, I'd stress that caring about public safety at the state, local, and tribal level is not a partisan issue. It's one, as all of you know, with support on both sides of the aisle, from everyone who supports safe communities.

       So, it's been rewarding to come back and work with a staff in OJP - and particularly at BJA - who are dedicated to their state, local, and tribal partners. This conference is a good example of that. And I know Jim will deflect credit to his staff (and they certainly deserve it, as he notes), but his leadership is a huge reason we've seen our partnerships with the field expand over the last two years. And not just with the field, but within OJP, in the Department of Justice, and across the Administration.

       Jim is constantly reaching out to other bureau and office heads and to Department leadership and finding ways they can work together. This collaboration is infectious, and it's a big part of the reason the Department - at all levels - is consistently engaging with its state, local, and tribal stakeholders. I can assure you that you could have no better advocate for your issues at OJP than Jim Burch and I applaud him for his leadership

       I think it's important that I say a little more about why this type of collaboration and leadership is so critical. OJP, BJA, and all the bureaus and offices within OJP have a shared mission, and that is to support our partners in the field. The work you do in your states and communities really is the foundation of public safety in America. OJP's role - our reason for being - is to give you the tools you need to keep crime out of our homes and off our streets, and BJA is where the rubber meets the road.

       I'm very pleased with the progress we've made over the last two years, working with you to meet the challenges you face. And I know those challenges have been considerable. You're fighting back an ever-growing number of public safety threats even as your resources are diminishing. It's amazing to me that, with all you're up against, you've managed not to just keep crime at bay, but actually to reduce it. This is worth celebrating.

       But I save my greatest admiration for the way you've refused to rest on your laurels. You might think a declining crime rate would be a chance to sit back and let things take their course. But instead, you're trying to figure out how we can be even smarter about prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry.

       You're to be commended for this, because for all the success we've had, if we really hope to sustain our progress, we'll need a good handle on how it is we've gotten to this point. We need to continue to look at the evidence and find out what's working, what's not working, and how we can take those effective programs and practices to scale.

       One of the things we've been working very hard to do in OJP - and it's one of my top priorities - is to instill a focus on data-driven, evidence-based approaches to crime and safety. This conference is proof of that. This begins, of course, with finding out what those approaches are - learning from you about what's worked in your communities, and also looking at the research and finding out what that tells us.

       But equally important is taking that evidence and helping you to use it in your everyday work. I think this is such an important step because we know that busy practitioners don't have the time to wade through reams of academic material to make sense of all the information available.

       A big part of restoring our connection with the field is helping you apply all the lessons we've learned over the years to your work today. As I say, I've made this one of my top goals.

       Shortly after I returned to OJP in 2009, I launched what we call the Evidence Integration Initiative that I hope will help us, not only expand our knowledge of what works, but translate that knowledge into practice. This is an OJP-wide effort, and it has many pieces.

       Two important components are what we call the Crime Solutions Resource Center - which will be a clearinghouse of information about what works and what's promising - and a "Help Desk" that'll be available to help jurisdictions adapt evidence-based approaches to fit their own needs. We've requested funding for both these efforts in the President's budget request for 2011.

       But I think what's just as important is that we embed an evidence-based mindset in all our programs. And BJA has been a leader here. The Smart Policing Initiative is a terrific example of how we use evidence and data to fight crime while allowing room for innovation. BJA is funding projects in 16 cities across the country. Each of the sites is bringing together research partners from nearby universities with local criminal justice professionals to identify crime problems in their jurisdictions and design solutions based on research and data.

       These partnerships allow communities to combine the expertise and analytic skills of researchers with the practical experience and insight of practitioners. We're seeing some exciting work being done at the sites, and I think they're going to yield some promising results.

       I want to be clear, though - and I know I'm speaking for Jim here, too - we don't pretend that programs like Smart Policing spring fully formed out of OJP. As I've said many times and in many places, all wisdom does not reside on the banks of the Potomac. These are your ideas. They develop out of your experience. We simply take those good ideas and try to find ways to make them work on a broader scale. In fact, some of our most promising and exciting initiatives were not our ideas - and they're successful precisely because they were driven by you, with your needs in mind.

       I can think of many examples here. One that stands out for me is the Regional Information Sharing System program. The RISS concept was generated, as you probably know, by state and local law enforcement, and it's governed by boards made up of state and local representatives. I think it's this strong local connection that has made RISS so effective in driving information sharing, even before it became fashionable. I guess it's like the country music song - RISS was information sharing before information sharing was cool. RISS is represented here at the conference, by the way, and I encourage you to visit their display in the Resource Room.

       Our ultimate success, of course, depends on our ability to facilitate collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders - justice system professionals; community groups; local, state, and federal agencies; schools; faith-based organizations; human service providers; businesses; and citizens themselves. And I'm a firm believer that we should practice what we preach. If we expect these groups to work together, then we at the federal level need to be willing to do the same.

       The state of the economy has made it imperative for you on the state and local levels to think creatively about how to pool your resources and maximize your assets. The fact is, those same fiscal challenges have come to roost at the federal level, as well. We have to be more creative and adaptable in how we work together in Washington just as you have had to be.

       I feel very fortunate that we have leaders and staff in OJP, in the Department, and in the Administration who are doing that every day. I see it with the collaboration between Jim and his counterparts across OJP. I see and hear it in the words and actions of the Department's leadership - the top three DOJ officials will be here at this conference to demonstrate their commitment to partnership. And I see this spirit of collaboration being encouraged by the President himself.

       We're doing some important work with our friends across government. For example, we have a federal interagency effort to deal with the tremendous challenges around prisoner reentry. The Attorney General is setting up a Cabinet-level interagency group, and OJP is leading a parallel staff-level effort headed by Amy Solomon and Marlene Beckman of my office.

       This staff-level group is working to coordinate activities ranging from housing, health, education, employment, family reunification, and beyond. Sixteen agencies are engaged - I think that's remarkable - including HHS, HUD, Labor, Education, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Social Security Administration, and others. I'm optimistic that by working together, we can achieve even some "quick wins" and long term success on public safety and reintegration.

       We also have a National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention that my Chief of Staff, Thomas Abt, is spearheading. We're working with the Departments of Education, HHS, HUD, U.S. Attorneys, and other agencies to address the difficult gang and youth violence problems that communities are facing.

       And we're working with HUD, Education, HHS, and Treasury on a White House-led initiative to revitalize distressed neighborhoods by focusing federal resources on those places that are hardest hit by crime, poverty, and decay.

       These are examples of how we're trying to walk the walk, and at the same time, maximize our resources in support of your work. You'll hear about many other efforts over the next three days.

       This is what I had in mind when I came back to OJP. These are the kind of steps I thought we needed to take to re-engage with you, our state, local, and tribal partners.

       I know we're facing tough times - you know, first hand, just how tough. But you're standing firm and you keep beating back the challenges. You'll need more of that resolve and resilience in the months and years ahead. But thanks to a strong connection with your counterparts and with us at OJP and the Department of Justice, you know you won't have to face those challenges alone.

       As we work to secure the gains we've made over the last several years, we need to commit ourselves to smart-on-crime approaches that, can keep our communities safe. We have the knowledge, we have the practical experience, and we have the support of each other that we'll need.

       I'm really glad to be here with you. I have to tell you there are many nights I go home - frankly, really tired - and wonder, "Why did I come back to OJP?" And then I think about the challenges that all of you face out there every day - with budget cuts, and gang and violence problems in your communities, and all the rest - and I ponder what we can do to support you.

       You are my inspiration, our inspiration, and our partners. We'll stand with you in the times ahead.

       So thank you for your being here, and thank you for everything you do for America's communities.

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