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

Major Cities Chiefs Association/
Major Counties Sheriffs Association
Winter Meeting

Monday, January 24, 2011
Washington, DC

     Thank you, Chief Ramsey. It's great to be here with you and Sheriff Gillespie - and all the major city chiefs and major county sheriffs. It's always a privilege to speak to you. I also want to thank Darrel Stephens and Joe Wolfinger - both of whom I've known well for many years - for their leadership, their friendship, and direction.

     I addressed the Major Counties Sheriffs winter meeting this time last year, and spoke to Major Cities Chiefs down in Orlando in October, in a much warmer climate! It's nice to be with you now, although it was nicer in Orlando.

     In a few minutes, I'll have the delightful job of introducing the Attorney General. But before I do, I have the opportunity to share some thoughts of my own. After we both speak, we'll take some questions. The Attorney General and I very much want to hear your thoughts and have a chance for as much dialogue as time allows.

     Let me begin with the state of our budget in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). As I think you know, we're still in a holding pattern with our appropriations for FY 2011. The federal government is operating under a Continuing Resolution that runs until March 4th. What happens next will be up to Congress, but we hope its decisions take into account the Administration's strong support for state and local law enforcement as shown in the President's budget request.

     In the meantime, we anticipate that the President's budget for 2012 will be released by mid- February. And just a word about that. We know what's happening on the budget front in your cities and counties. We know what's happening in places like Oakland and Camden. And those challenges have now come to Washington.

     We're looking at a very, very tight budget for 2012. I don't have details to give you at this point, but what I can tell you is this: supporting our local law enforcement partners will remain a top priority of this Administration and of this Department of Justice. In particular, this Administration remains firmly committed to Byrne/JAG - it has been, and will remain, our flagship program.

     Despite these challenges, I still see opportunities for us in the months and years ahead. I see stronger partnerships developing between local, state, and federal agencies. I see a real drive toward innovation and problem-solving. And I see a continuing commitment to evidence-based approaches that's unprecedented in the history of law enforcement. And this is all being driven by the leadership of many of you on the front lines.

     These are things to celebrate and build upon - I can assure you, the Office of Justice Programs - Jim Burch and I and others in our leadership - will be right there with you as we move forward.

     I know the Attorney General will talk about some of the ways the Department of Justice is supporting you - in areas like information sharing and suspicious activity reporting - and much of that work OJP is spearheading. I do want to emphasize two specific areas of our work. The first is our absolute commitment to law enforcement safety and welfare.

     On the first, the Attorney General and I had the privilege of joining the Vice President last October at the Presidential Medal of Valor ceremony at the White House. I know both your organizations were represented there. Frankly, it was one of the most touching ceremonies I think I've ever attended - a really poignant reminder of the heroism that public safety officers all across the country demonstrate on the job every day.

     Having said that, at the Department we're also committed to keeping these officers safe. Last year, we gave out more than $40 million for officer safety programs. Most of that went to our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program. Since 1999, we've provided over $275 million to help agencies in over 13,000 jurisdictions buy some 800,000 vests.

     We also continue to run a rigorous certification program through our Body Armor Safety Initiative to make sure the protective equipment you're purchasing meets the highest standards. And as the Attorney General announced at the International Association of Police Chiefs (IACP) conference, this year we'll begin requiring that agencies that receive this funding have written "mandatory wear" policies for their officers.

     And I'll just add that already this year, body armor funded by our Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has saved the lives of two officers who were shot while on duty. As far as we're concerned, this program is vital - and no additional evidence is needed on that front!

     And we've stepped up our commitment to officer safety beyond body armor. At IACP, the Attorney General announced the VALOR initiative being administered by BJA. The goal here is to launch a new training and technical assistance program to help police survive potentially deadly encounters with offenders when those encounters can't be otherwise prevented. I know this is a top concern of everyone in this room.

     We don't like to think of tragedy striking in the line of duty. But when it does, we want to help. Through our Public Safety Officers Benefits Program, we provided more than $65 million last year in claims on behalf of officers injured or killed in the line of duty. And I want you to know that since I came to OJP two years ago, I've made it a priority that we expedite the handling of these claims. These officers and their families deserve our respect and our rapid assistance.

     And beyond Medal of Valor, I'm pleased that this year, BJA is administering a new program called the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery. Like Medal of Valor, it recognizes extraordinary acts of courage performed by law enforcement officers. The difference is that this honor is reserved for law enforcement officers, as opposed to the broader category of public safety officers under the Medal of Valor.

     I should note that nominations are due February 15th, and I'd really encourage you to visit the BJA Web site to learn more about this program. Please do send in nominations!

     I'd like to touch on a second issue, too, that has relevance to both sheriffs and chiefs. And that's the issue of offenders returning every year to our nation's communities after serving time, not just in prison - but as the sheriffs know so well, in America's jails.

     This is so important because we know that when reentry issues go unaddressed, released inmates often go on to commit more crime and come right back into jail or prison. This has implications for everyone who works in public safety - and for everyone living in the communities to which offenders return.

     I'm pleased to see reentry being addressed, not only by sheriffs, but by police chiefs, as well. In Boston, Chief Davis and the Boston Police - working with Sheriff Cabral and the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department - are leading an interagency initiative to help violent adult offenders released from jail transition back to their neighborhoods. An evaluation of the program shows that it's been associated with significant reductions in re-arrests - on the order of 30 percent. This is a great example of how police and sheriffs, together, have taken the reins on this issue.

     I'm pleased that we've been able to support the Boston Reentry Initiative through funding under the Second Chance Act. Last year, we awarded a total of $100 million in reentry grants under Second Chance. And the President's 2011 budget proposes an additional $100 million.

     We're also working to support reentry through other tools - training, technical assistance, research, and information resources. Recently, in partnership with the Urban Institute, BJA published a Toolkit for Jail Reentry for elected officials. We know reentry is a huge problem for sheriffs - there are anywhere between 9 and 12 million people cycling through our nation's jails every year. That makes the more than 700,000 people who come out of prisons each year seem small by comparison.

     The Toolkit provides a number of resources, including information on best practices, that I'm hopeful will be useful to you. We have a flyer on hand here that describes it. You can also visit the BJA and Urban Institute's Web sites to download a copy.

     These are challenging times for law enforcement on many fronts, but I think it's important to remember that America today, on the whole, is a safer - and better - place because of your leadership. I'm personally very grateful for all that you do every day. I'm proud to call you our partners, and I look forward to continuing our work together.

*    *    *

     I've often said one of the most delightful parts of my job is getting to introduce my boss.

     Throughout his tenure as Attorney General - and throughout his career - Eric Holder has been a champion of local law enforcement. He's made it clear that police chiefs and sheriffs in our cities and major counties are the linchpins of community safety and the security of our homeland.

     He also believes that the federal government has a solemn responsibility to support you in your work. For him, this is a joint enterprise, and there are few things he values more than your partnership with the Department of Justice.

     Please welcome the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.

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