THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
NATIONAL EMERGENCY NUMBER ASSOCIATION’S
CRITICAL ISSUES FORUM
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2003
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you about the Office of Justice Programs’ initiatives related to emergency communications. But first, I want to thank you for the important work you do every day through the 9-1-1 emergency system to save lives, protect property, and make our communities safer.
Virtually every man, woman, and child in America knows what to do in case of emergency – dial 9-1-1. For over 30 years, 9-1-1 dispatchers have provided a vital, life-saving link to those in trouble. And, in this time of national watchfulness, as we guard against domestic terrorism, your work is more critical than ever before.
I want to talk to you today about the central role the 9-1-1 emergency system plays in several major Department of Justice initiatives, as well as about funding through the Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services - COPS - that could be used to support your important work.
Let me start by giving you a little background on my agency, the Office of Justice Programs. In a nutshell, OJP is the Justice Department’s primary source of assistance for state and local criminal and juvenile justice initiatives. We work closely with state and local governments, national criminal justice organizations, researchers, advocacy groups, and others to develop innovative approaches to reduce crime, improve the operations of state and local criminal and juvenile justice systems, and assist crime victims.
We house various sub-agencies with which you may be familiar: the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which are the nation’s primary criminal justice research and statistical entities; the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; the Office on Violence Against Women; the Weed and Seed initiative; and others. We also house the Office for Domestic Preparedness, the agency which trains and equips first responders for attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. Of course, ODP will be moving to the Department of Homeland Security as of March 1, although we’ll continue to handle their training and equipment grants for some time to come, during the transition period – to ensure that we don’t in any way slow the process of getting that critical funding out to the states and localities which so desperately need it.
OJP staff members work closely with your state criminal justice agency, your state and local law enforcement officials, corrections officials, and community leaders to identify the crime-related problems in your state, and to develop solutions to address those problems.
Through our Bureau of Justice Assistance, we provide grant funds to states and local governments to support a wide range of criminal justice initiatives, including technology improvements. Under the Fiscal Year 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by the Congress just this month, we’ll have $500 million this year to award to states under our Byrne Formula grant program, and another $270 million to award to states and local communities under our Local Law Enforcement Block Grants program.
Funds available through the LLEBG and Byrne Formula grant programs can be used to support law enforcement-related technology and communications system improvements. And I encourage you to check our Web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov for details on these programs and the contacts in your state for information on applying for funds.
One of the areas we’re concentrating heavily on is communications interoperability. NIJ and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) have done considerable research on the most cost effective means of ensuring that all public safety agencies can communicate in an emergency. We are working hard to make that knowledge available to communities through the agencies that will make grant awards to them - these include the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Office for Domestic Preparedness.
For the next fiscal year, 2004, President Bush is requesting $600 million for a new Justice Assistance Grant program that would combine the Byrne and LLEBG grants into a single funding stream and significantly reduce red tape in applying for these funds.
Included in that $600 million request for next year is $20 million to support law enforcement technology research and development by our National Institute of Justice. This is in addition to the $20 million just made available in FY 03 for such efforts.
The President is also requesting $3.5 billion in the Department of Homeland Security budget, to provide additional training and equipment for terrorism prevention and response, vastly increasing the federal funds available for law enforcement and other first responders. Unfortunately, while the President requested an identical amount for this purpose in the 2003 budget, it appears that Congress has appropriated substantially less than that for Fiscal Year 2003.
Of course, we’ll have to watch the action in Congress over the next several months before we know how much we’ll actually have in Fiscal Year 2004 to support state and local law enforcement, counter-terrorism and other related initiatives. Again, watch our Web site for updated information as it becomes available.
In addition to our funding programs that support state and local criminal justice initiatives, OJP also develops national initiatives to address major public safety concerns. One example relates to abducted children and our efforts to implement a National AMBER Alert System.
AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It was created in 1996 as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnaped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and then brutally murdered.
In the aftermath of this horrible crime, Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. The system broadcasts alerts about a missing child and the abductor, providing as much descriptive information as possible, and asks the public to call 9-1-1 to report sightings or other pertinent information.
The goal of AMBER Alert is to quickly galvanize the entire community to assist in the safe return of the child and the apprehension of the predator. Our research has shown that the first few hours are critical in the safe recovery of an abducted child. 74 percent of children who are kidnaped and later found murdered are killed within the first three hours after being taken. So a quick response is vital in saving the life of an abducted child.
AMBER Alert provides this quick response, and I am pleased to report that the number of AMBER programs across the country is growing. To date, there are 84 AMBER programs, 35 of which are statewide. So far, the AMBER program has been credited with the safe return of 45 children. But, because the program has not been implemented nationwide, there are still critical gaps that could endanger the lives of abducted children.
Although even a single child’s victimization is one too many, our most recent national data reflect that stranger abductions are actually on the decline. Even so, the data indicate that there were more than 58,000 non-family abductions in the United States in 1999. Fortunately, 99 percent of these children returned home – often through the quick work of 9-1-1 dispatchers and law enforcement. But 115 of these children were the victims of what we call “stereotypical kidnapings”, perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance on a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed. Of these, tragically, 40% were killed, and another 4% were not recovered.
To better address this problem, last October - at the first-ever White House Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children – President Bush directed Attorney General Ashcroft to establish a National AMBER Alert Coordinator at the Justice Department.
The Attorney General has appointed me as the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, and I am honored to have been given this important responsibility. As coordinator, I serve as a nationwide point of contact to assist state and local officials with developing and enhancing AMBER plans, and to promote statewide and regional coordination among plans.
Over the past several months, my staff and I have worked to move this initiative forward on a number of fronts. For example, we’re examining the experience of communities that already have AMBER Alert Systems in place. My deputy and I have met with various constituencies across the country – law enforcement and other local officials, broadcasters, and missing children’s organizations – to gather information on “lessons learned” through their experiences.
OJP has for some years provided significant funding to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the National Center has been a great partner in seeking to return missing children to their families. With regard to the AMBER Alert system, they have helped us in part by producing a guide introducing and explaining the AMBER Alert system to broadcasters and law enforcement personnel.
The guide is designed to encourage communities to adopt the system and to provide some basic “how to” information. It’s available from the National Center’s Web site at www.ncmec.org.
In December, I convened a meeting of a new AMBER Alert Working Group. We brought together experts from law enforcement, the media, government, and the private sector to obtain their advice and to discuss how best to implement a nationwide AMBER Alert collaboration. Bill McMurray of NENA’s leadership was kind enough to attend and lend his expertise to this effort.
At the meeting, we examined model approaches to implementing AMBER Alert programs, assessed training and other resources needed to expand the system nationwide, and developed recommendations on strategies to address issues raised by our discussion. We’re reviewing those recommendations now to determine our next steps in this process.
For example, one issue we’re working on is the development of nationwide criteria for issuing and disseminating AMBER Alerts.
Although each AMBER program will reflect the unique needs and resources of its own community, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests three criteria that should be met before an Alert is activated:
We believe these are some of the basic criteria that must be met, but we’re looking at other issues, as well. Our goal is to help ensure that the use of the system is reserved for rare instances of serious child abductions.
To support our national AMBER Alert program, the Departments of Justice and Transportation have committed $10 million from existing funds. Part of this funding will support grants to provide training and education programs to help communities implement or expand AMBER Alert plans.
Congress has appropriated another $2.5 million in the Justice Department’s 2003 budget, and, as I understand it, the Department of Transportation has set aside another $7 million. Further, Attorney General Ashcroft announced last month that the President is requesting $2.5 million in new funding in Fiscal Year 2004 for the Justice Department to further our national AMBER Alert initiative. If Congress approves our request, these new funds will be used to fund the areas of greatest need, and in a way that will maximize the impact of our limited funds. Possible uses could include:
Similarly, Transportation funds will be used, in consultation with our state, local and national AMBER Alert partners, to best advantage for the benefit of our nation’s children, within the limitations imposed by their appropriations language.
Our goal is to get the AMBER Alert system up and running nationwide as soon as possible. If your state doesn’t have an AMBER Alert system, I encourage you to work with your state officials to organize a task force including law enforcement and other emergency response personnel, broadcasters, and local community representatives to develop a statewide AMBER plan. Children’s lives depend on this nationwide safety net, and 9-1-1 emergency system personnel can play a vital role in developing a quick and seamless response to these incidents.
Relying on citizens to be the "eyes and ears" of law enforcement is a critical component of not only AMBER Alert, but also another priority initiative underway at OJP. Together with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, OJP is a partner in the Citizen Corps effort, which is part of the USA Freedom Corps, a major Presidential initiative. The Citizen Corps is a network of volunteer organizations that is working to marshal the skills and knowledge of the American people on the local level to help law enforcement respond to terrorism.
As part of this effort, OJP has partnered with the National Sheriffs’ Association to expand the number of Neighborhood Watch programs across the country and to incorporate terrorism prevention into this program’s long-time mission of preventing neighborhood crime.
As you know, under Neighborhood Watch, citizen volunteers keep an eye on activities in their neighborhoods and call 9-1-1 to report criminal activity to police. Our goal is to double the number of Neighborhood Watch programs across the country over the next year. At this point, less than a year after we officially launched the Neighborhood Watch expansion, we have, I’m told, reached 58% of that goal.
The President has requested $15 million in his 2004 budget to support the Neighborhood Watch homeland security program and the Volunteers in Police Services program, OJP’s other USA Freedom Corps initiative. VIPS is working to encourage citizens to volunteer in law enforcement agencies to aid police and enable more officers to be available for calls for service and community patrol.
In this time of terrorist threats, it’s increasingly important that our nation’s 9-1-1 emergency system be available to respond to terrorist attacks on our homeland and other real emergencies. As you know all too well, however, our emergency communications systems are often overloaded with non-emergency calls. Several years ago, a survey by U.S. News & World Report found that 50 to 90 percent of all calls to 9-1-1 were not emergencies.
To address this problem, the Justice Department’s Office of Community Policing Services worked with the Federal Communications Commission to designate 3-1-1 as the number for non-emergency calls for service. And, over the past several years, COPS has awarded $5.5 million to support the implementation or enhancement of 3-1-1 non-emergency systems in jurisdictions throughout the country.
Baltimore, Maryland, was the first city to implement the 3-1-1 non-emergency number system. And California was first to implement the system statewide. Other jurisdictions have attempted to address the problem of overburdened 9-1-1 emergency communications systems by establishing non-emergency 7-digit number systems.
With funding from COPS, our research bureau, the National Institute of Justice, is examining the effectiveness of both types of non-emergency number systems. The final report from that comparative assessment is currently being completed. We hope to be able to publish our findings in the near future so that we’ll have the sound, scientific data needed to help policy makers determine:
While the jury is still out on the efficacy of 3-1-1 systems, one thing is certain: we must all work to ensure that 9-1-1 continues to serve as the vital link between citizens and emergency services. One final issue I want to bring briefly to your attention is the problem of 9-1-1 callers with limited English proficiency.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is working to develop a set of “best practices” for responding to these callers, and is interested in learning from NENA members what you have done in your jurisdiction to ensure that all 9-1-1 calls for service are handled quickly and efficiently. I invite you to contact Teresa Ferrante or Linda King in the Civil Rights Division at 202-307-2222 if you’d like to contribute to this information-sharing effort.
I understand that NENA is working with the FCC to resolve another critical issue – the problem in tracing cell phone calls to 9-1-1. And I applaud your efforts to close this critical gap in public safety and to ensure that law enforcement, firefighters, and other emergency personnel can respond quickly to cell phone callers in an emergency.
While new technology, terrorism, and other emerging issues continue to challenge our nation’s 9-1-1 emergency system, I know that all of you are well-prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. I want to assure you of the Justice Department’s support for your efforts. And I hope you will let us know how, together, we can work to advance emergency communications in our nation.
Thank you again for inviting me here today; and, more importantly, thank you for all you are doing, every day, to safeguard the people of this nation.