THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
SECOND INTERNATIONAL YOUTH LEADERS
CRIME PREVENTION CONFERENCE
SATURDAY, APRIL 12, 2003
Good morning! I’m delighted to be here and am thrilled to see all of you young, enthusiastic people who have made a commitment to preventing violence in your schools and communities. And the Justice Department is pleased to be a partner with Youth Crime Watch of America – dedicating $3 million to the work that you do, through our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
As Attorney General John Ashcroft said recently, “Young people may make up 25 percent of our population, but they make up 100 percent of our future.” From where I’m standing, looking out at all of you, our future looks very bright, indeed!
At the Department of Justice, we believe that young people not only can, but also should be part of the solution in addressing violence in our schools and communities. As you’ve shown through your work with Youth Crime Watch of America, young people are an incredible source of knowledge, energy, and talent. And we know that many young people today, like you, are concerned about crime and would like to take action.
In 1997, our Office of Juvenile Justice conducted a survey of over 2,000 middle and high school students. In that survey, 46 percent of the young people said they had made at least one change in their daily routine because they were concerned about personal safety, crime, and violence in their communities. And 86 percent of the teens surveyed said they would be willing to participate in community crime prevention efforts if they only knew what to do. And all this was before 9/11/01.
You’ve already made that commitment, and I want to thank you for all you’re already doing to keep your homes, communities, and schools safe from crime.
President Bush has recognized the incredible power of volunteer service in increasing the safety of our communities and in ensuring the security of our homeland. In the wake of 9/11, he called on all Americans – young and old alike – to work together in their communities to be “on watch” against terrorism and other crimes.
During his 2002 State of the Union address, the President asked each of us to dedicate at least two years – 4,000 hours over the course of our lives – to the service of others. And he created the USA Freedom Corps to help citizens find service opportunities – both at home and abroad.
For example, as part of this effort, this Administration is working to double the size of the Peace Corps, which sends American volunteers to help impoverished communities in foreign nations.
Peace Corps volunteers teach children, as well as adults; build water systems and gardens; and provide expertise on crops, roads, and other community improvements.
Another Freedom Corps goal is to increase AmeriCorps by 50 percent. AmeriCorps volunteers tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs, and help communities respond to disasters.
A third USA Freedom Corps component – and the most far-reaching – is Citizen Corps. Citizen Corps gives each of us the opportunity to participate in the defense of our homeland by taking personal responsibility.
Citizen Corps operates right in your local community. Each state has a coordinator who works to establish and coordinate the activities of local Citizen Corps Councils. If your community doesn’t have a Citizen Corps Council, I encourage you to set up a meeting with your mayor or county executive to start the ball rolling. And I’m serious about this – you can use your role with Youth Crime Watch to get in the door. Check the Web site at www.citizencorps.gov for information on how to get started.
The Citizen Corps Councils are really the heart of the President’s USA Freedom Corps. The Councils coordinate all local Freedom Corps initiatives. And it’s my firm belief that every Citizen Corps Council should have active youth representation. It’s your job to see that that happens in your community.
Let me tell you a little bit about two of these Citizen Corps programs and how you can get involved in these efforts. And I tell you this because I know that the people who are most likely to get involved in volunteer efforts are people – like you – who have already become involved. There’s no reason in this world that people your age wouldn’t be welcome participants in these efforts. I can think of many reasons why you would, in fact, be uniquely qualified – for one thing, you have a lot more energy and staying power than us old fogeys.
My own agency, the Office of Justice Programs, is responsible for 2 Citizen Corps programs. Through the Volunteers in Police Services – or VIPS – program, we’re working with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to encourage civilians to volunteer to work in their local law enforcement agencies. The goal is to increase the number of citizen volunteers working in law enforcement agencies so that law enforcement professionals are freed up to better perform their front-line duties.
We’ve set up a web site at www.policevolunteers.org to help citizens who want to volunteer with their local departments. It allows citizens to search the database for one of the 550 local VIPS programs throughout the country.
And it provides information on the wide range of ways you can assist your local law enforcement agency – everything from reading parking meters, to servicing police vehicles, to conducting research, to taking police reports, to directing traffic, to answering the phones. There are many ways that each of you can help your local police department free up officers for street duty, and perform important public services.
We also – and this one is right up your alley – encourage citizens to join or form Neighborhood Watch programs. Under Citizen Corps, we’re working with the National Sheriffs’ Association to incorporate terrorism prevention into this program’s long-time mission of preventing neighborhood crime. Our other goal is to double the number of Neighborhood Watch programs across the country.
But to bring this closer to home for this group: A lot of people also ask how we’re going to address the potential for terrorism and other violence in our schools. I know the answer to that question, and I’m looking at the solution right now. Many or most of your Youth Crime Watch activities center around your schools – whether it’s to be vigilant about potential terrorism, or more of what we unfortunately these days must refer to as more “everyday” threats of violence.
The booklet and CD you all received called “Fight for Your Rights: Take A Stand Against Violence” cites these chilling statistics: 1 in 12 high school students are threatened or injured with a weapon each year; 1 in 8 male teens carries a weapon for protection.
All of us in law enforcement know that students are the real key to school safety. You will hear, long before teachers or school administrators, and certainly long before police, whether some students are carrying guns, or are planning violence at the school. Your fellow students are relying on you to detect and share that information, before a tragedy occurs.
Let me quote from an essay from one your own members from Provo, Utah: “No one should ever feel scared to go to school and get an education because of a bully, a gun, or a gang member. Schools should be the safest places in the world, and yet they’re not.”
We often refer to police officers as “the thin blue line,” standing between law-abiding citizens and criminals who would hurt them. But in your schools, you are that thin blue line. It is up to you to be aware, be alert, and report potential danger before someone gets hurt.
And you’re achieving great successes! For example, Youth Crime Watch students at Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, caught more than 100 trespassers, as well as drug dealers, burglars, and makers of bomb threats in just 4 years. At Braddock High School in Miami, disruptive behavior was reduced by 38 percent, narcotics possession tell 31 percent, and fights declined by 39 percent in just one year as the result of Youth Crime Watch. And in Bradenton, Florida, Harlee Middle School saw student arrests plummet from 43 a year to zero in just two years.
There’s one final Freedom Corps initiative I want to mention. In his 2003 State of the Union address, the President asked all Americans to share their compassion with at risk youth by becoming mentors. Research has found that the single greatest factor in helping a young person to avoid destructive activities such as drugs, alcohol, and violence is a strong, caring relationship with a positive role model.
Since 1994, the Office of Justice Programs has awarded more than $56 million to support 203 mentoring programs in 47 states and 2 territories under JUMP, our Juvenile Mentoring Program. These programs have provided mentoring services for more than 9,000 young people.
But the National Mentoring Partnership estimates that, while a total of about 2.5 million kids in this country currently have mentors, there are 15 million more kids who could benefit from a mentor but don’t have one.
To encourage more mentoring efforts, President Bush has proposed a three-year, $450 million initiative to recruit and train mentors for more than one million disadvantaged youth, and children with one or more parents in prison. And because young kids really look up to older kids, this is a wonderful opportunity for young people like you.
So I urge you to consider, if you’re not already doing this, becoming a volunteer mentor. It’s one way that even a single individual can have a positive impact on the life of another. For help in finding a mentoring program in your area, see the USA Freedom Corps Web site.
I know many of your YCWA groups are already involved in mentoring younger kids. One of your members from DeKalb County, Georgia, really hit the nail on the head when she said her favorite thing about YCWA is interacting with people of her own age group on crime prevention issues. She correctly sees this as more useful than having only adults talking to the students. Face it – kids listen to kids. Only you can help other kids resist negative peer pressure.
The President’s USA Freedom Corps initiatives recognize that there’s a lot young people can do to reduce crime and violence in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods. Through your work with Youth Crime Watch of America, you’re demonstrating how powerful the energy of young people can be in preventing violence and in ensuring the security of our homeland.
And while you’re protecting your fellow citizens, you’re also learning a lot about how to be a leader. You’re serving as role models, as problem-solvers – having not only an immediate effect on the world around you, but also a positive effect on your own future, as an eventual adult leader.
I want to take just a moment to recognize the efforts of those of you who have been working diligently throughout this conference to find solutions to crime and other problems facing our nation. I understand you’ve been discussing the problems of suicide, gang violence, school safety, and substance abuse, and have prepared a report with recommendations on how youth – and all of us – can find solutions to these problems. I look forward to seeing the report of the YES Forum, and sharing your findings with my colleagues back in Washington.
And I want to thank all of you for all you’re doing to prevent violence in your schools and communities. As the President said in issuing his national call to service: “America needs more than taxpayers, spectators, and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens . . . men and women who respond to the call of duty, who stand up for the weak, who speak up for their beliefs, who sacrifice for the greater good.”
And I would add that, to ensure our nation’s future security, we particularly need young people with these virtues.
You certainly exemplify what’s best about today’s youth. And I want you to know how proud we are at the Department of Justice of the outstanding work you’re doing to increase the safety of our nation and to make our world a better, more peaceful place.
We consider you, as members of Youth Crime Watch of America, to be full partners with the adults of our country in this effort. Thank you all for everything you’re doing for your fellow students and citizens. Thank you for the difference you are making, every day, in your community. Thank you for coming together to help make America safe. And thank you for allowing me to be with you today.