PLENARY ADDRESS OF
THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
FY 2004 WEED AND SEED APPLICATION KIT WORKSHOP
AND POWER OF PREVENTION REGIONAL MEETING
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2004
Good morning! I'm delighted to have the opportunity to welcome you to this very special event. For the first time, the Justice Department is partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services to combine our annual Weed and Seed Application Kit Workshop with the Power of Prevention Regional Meeting.
This joint event is just another example of the kind of federal, state, and local collaboration that has made the Weed and Seed Strategy such a resounding success in more than 300 communities throughout our great nation.
Weed and Seed and other community efforts are demonstrating just how much can be accomplished through the "power of prevention." Attorney General John Ashcroft recognizes this tremendous power and has refocused the approach of the Department of Justice from one of reacting to crime and terrorism to one of seeking to prevent them.
While this may sound logical to the average American, and certainly to members of this prevention-minded assembly, make no mistake: the Attorney General's command, issued to everyone in the Justice Department, constitutes nothing less than a sea change in the way that law enforcement conducts business.
Recent crime data illustrate the power of prevention on increasing public safety. These data show that crime in our country continues to decrease. Our National Crime Victimization Survey reported that violent crime was down 21 percent between 2001 and 2002 as compared to the preceding two-year period, continuing the steady drop in crime rates over the past several years. And a few months ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that violent crime declined 3 percent and property crime fell by almost one percent during the first six months of 2003. But what's more important are the people behind these numbers -- the dramatic numbers of people who are spared the pain and trauma of victimization as the result of these decreases in crime.
Many of our Weed and Seed communities report similar success in reducing crime. For example, St. Louis, Missouri, which has Weed and Seed programs in seven neighborhoods, recently reported that its homicide rate had declined by more than 60 percent over the last two years. Last year, the city experienced 69 murders, its lowest number, by far, since 1962.
Jackson, Mississippi, reports that, as a result of its Weed and Seed strategy, crimes such as aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, auto theft, and drug offenses have decreased in each of its target neighborhoods. Burglaries alone dropped by half - from almost 300 offenses in 1998 to just over 150 in 2001.
And in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, violent crimes decreased 24 percent in the two years following the start up of Weed and Seed and 44 percent after five years.
I am proud to be a part of Weed and Seed's history of success, both as the United States Attorney helping to start Weed and Seed in Indianapolis, and also as the first director of the Executive Office for Weed and Seed in Washington, DC. And I'm delighted to have the opportunity to work with Weed and Seed and other crime prevention initiatives as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.
But we know that our commitment at the federal level is only a small part of what makes the Weed and Seed strategy so successful in reducing crime and improving the quality of life for community residents. As President Bush has said, "Government can pass out money, but it cannot put hope in people's hearts or purpose in people's lives."
It's your work - in your communities and in your neighborhoods - that's having this kind of impact. As I've worked with Weed and Seed over the last 13 years, I've seen firsthand how powerful Weed and Seed partnerships can be in giving neighborhood residents hope for a better future.
And I thank all of you for the tremendous work you do through your Weed and Seed programs and other prevention efforts to weed out crime, provide drug prevention and treatment and other needed services in your community, revitalize neighborhoods suffering from economic downturns, and give hope and a renewed sense of purpose to community residents.
Your efforts have spread the power of prevention all across this country. As many of you know, Weed and Seed began with only three sites in 1991. Those pioneering efforts demonstrated the positive impact on crime that could be achieved when federal, state, and local agencies, with missions ranging from law enforcement to housing, to drug abuse prevention, to economic development, joined forces, shared resources, set common goals, partnered with community groups and neighborhood residents, and worked together to drive trouble out of troubled neighborhoods.
Because of your hard work and determination B and the efforts of thousands of other individuals at the grass-roots level B Weed and Seed is now helping to improve the quality of life for the residents of more than 300 communities throughout America. This tremendous growth is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and leadership of all of you and your colleagues in Weed and Seed sites throughout the country.
Although federal funds provide some seed money for your efforts, we recognize that Weed and Seed remains a grass-roots initiative that relies on the strength of its local leaders and the partnerships built and maintained at the local level.
The work of the Weed and Seed Steering Committees B in bringing together residents, law enforcement, faith- and community-based groups, local businesses, schools, government officials, and others B provides the coordination and collaboration that's so critical in building the community coalitions needed to sustain crime reduction, individual opportunity, and neighborhood revitalization over the long term.
And it's important to continue to build your funding and program partnerships to further the progress your efforts are having in improving the safety of your communities. As you know, whether you're receiving Department of Justice, HHS, or other federal funding, those grants don't last forever.
Our role - at the federal level - is often to provide some seed money to get you started - but, more importantly, to assist you in building the capacity to sustain your efforts over the long term. We're kind of like a mother eagle - getting you on your feet, and then providing the resources, training, technical assistance, and information sharing to help your programs grow strong. But, sooner or later, your programs are going to have to fly under their own power.
So it's up to you to start now, leveraging your federal funds to develop additional resources, and to build the partnerships that can sustain your initiatives after federal grant funding ends B and over the long term.
Let me give you an example from the Weed and Seed site with which I'm most familiar -- Indianapolis. The Weed and Seed program there is supported by some 50 grants from a variety of sources, including the private sector. Those funds total about $34 million and help support the program's many facets.
Here in Dallas, we're providing an opportunity to network with established sites and learn about initiatives across the country that are proving effective in preventing crime and improving the quality of life in the neighborhoods they serve. I encourage you to carefully consider how these initiatives can fill gaps in services and address the crime-related and other problems that you've identified in your communities.
For example, I hope that you're taking full advantage of the churches and other faith-based organizations in your communities. As President Bush has pointed out, faith-based organizations can be critical partners in serving as "neighborhood healers in the compassionate delivery of help."
As some of you may have heard in yesterday's breakout session, one of the President's first official acts was to create the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The office was tasked with leading a "determined attack on need" by strengthening and expanding the role of faith-based and community organizations in addressing the nation's social problems.
To promote his initiative, the President created Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in seven Cabinet departments, including the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. These agency centers are working to increase opportunities for, and collaboration with, organizations that serve at-risk youth, ex-offenders, substance abusers, the homeless, families on welfare, and those with AIDS.
When I was U.S. Attorney in Indianapolis, and we were looking for a suitable Weed and Seed site there, we chose a neighborhood that had a lot of problems. But it also had a lot of churches that proved to be a wonderful resource for our seeding efforts in providing social services, in helping young people avoid the lure of gangs and drug dealing, in stimulating economic activity, in rebuilding run-down housing, in renewing neighborhood pride, and in reviving municipal services.
Many other Weed and Seed sites throughout the country have also enjoyed the tremendous benefits derived from a close working relationship with the faith-based community, whose mission is to render assistance and support the down-trodden. People who share the same zip code as those they seek to serve, who know their families and neighborhoods, and whose mission it is to help those in need, are generally best positioned to offer a helping hand, and far more effective in helping neighborhoods effect positive change - certainly much more so than some distant government agency.
In addition to the workshops presented at this conference, our Weed and Seed Office has developed a guide to help Weed and Seed sites and other crime prevention programs to incorporate faith-based organizations in your efforts. The guide, which is posted on our Web site, identifies areas where faith-based organizations might be able to assist you in meeting your goals and objectives. It also helps you identify faith-based organizations in your community that operate programs that match or support your Weed and Seed strategy, goals, and objectives.
I want to briefly mention two other major Administration initiatives that I encourage you to incorporate as partners in your prevention efforts. I hope many of you are already familiar with Project Safe Neighborhoods, and that you are working with your U.S. Attorneys to incorporate this gun violence prevention initiative into your Weed and Seed and other crime reduction strategies.
For those of you who are not familiar with this critical community safety strategy, PSN is the major crime reduction initiative B short of counter terrorism B of President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft. Project Safe Neighborhoods targets gun violence in our communities. The objective is to link existing local programs that target gun crime and provide those programs with the additional tools necessary to be successful.
The goal of this gun violence reduction effort is to help communities move quickly to put gun-wielding criminals behind bars, and to send a message that our communities will deal firmly with these offenders. Through Project Safe Neighborhoods, we awarded funding to help state and local governments hire almost 600 new gun prosecutors in areas with a high incidence of gun violence. And we're providing funding to hire more federal gun prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, and develop and promote efforts to involve residents in becoming agents of change in their own communities.
Another component of Project Safe Neighborhoods is Project Sentry. This initiative is dedicated to helping communities solve problems related to juvenile gun crimes. Communities received about $20 million in Project Sentry funds to target gun crimes committed by youth. Communities are using these funds to hire additional prosecutors, enhance enforcement efforts, and identify and prosecute adults who give or sell guns to juveniles.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, with its specific concentration on reducing violent crime, is a natural tool to use on the weeding side of Weed and Seed. Weed and Seed funding can complement PSN's funding for prosecutors, for example, by supporting gun task forces in Weed and Seed sites. So I encourage you to work with your U.S. Attorney to develop and implement PSN in your community.
The other area I want to mention is the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative. I know you heard from my deputy, Cheri Nolan, on Tuesday about how this unprecedented collaboration of federal, state, and community agencies is working to reduce repeat crimes by offenders returning to our communities after incarceration.
As Cheri probably told you, substance abuse treatment is a key component of the offender reentry strategy. So this is an opportunity to partner your substance abuse treatment and prevention initiatives with this major community safety effort.
Many Weed and Seed sites have incorporated offender reentry initiatives into their crime prevention strategies, and I encourage all of you, if your community isn't already engaged in such an effort, to make offender reentry a priority. I believe offender reentry is perhaps the single most powerful prevention tool in our arsenal.
It is worth noting that, without intervention, prison releasees recidivate at a rate of 67 percent, just in the first three years following their release. And offenders are being released from prison at a rate of 600,000 per year. It is critical that your crime prevention efforts include a well-thought-out offender reentry initiative.
Another powerful tool that I hope you've had the opportunity to learn more about here in Dallas is evaluation - measuring the impact of your community safety efforts to determine what works - and what doesn't.
As those of us at every level of government - federal, state, and local - are called upon more and more to justify our expenditure of scarce taxpayer dollars, we must be absolutely sure that we are investing those dollars in programs that work.
And, at a more basic level, we cannot and must not simply go through the motions of seeming to address critical quality of life issues in our communities. We must dedicate ourselves to actually making a difference - having a positive impact.
This means starting by identifying the problems to be solved and the desired outcomes; employing approaches geared toward achieving those outcomes; measuring whether our efforts are achieving those outcomes; and being prepared to revise our strategy if they are not.
I encourage you to take advantage of the resources discussed at this conference to learn how to improve your performance measurement efforts. It is our goal to help local communities improve their own capacity to prevent crime, delinquency, drug abuse, and other ills that can pull a community down.
To better reflect this core mission of OJP B and to help incorporate Weed and Seed's successful crime reduction strategy into other prevention initiatives B we have created a new Community Capacity Development Office in the Office of Justice Programs. The CCDO is an exciting concept that brings into focus this particular core mission of OJP B working with local communities to enhance their capabilities to address crime, substance abuse, delinquency, and domestic violence.
Weed and Seed will be the flagship program in the CCDO, but we will expand its collaborative, community-driven approach to many other programs - such as offender reentry, for example. Through training and technical assistance, the CCDO will help communities to better help themselves B enabling those communities to develop solutions to thorny problems confronting them, as well as developing the leadership to implement and sustain those solutions.
But the local leadership issue, as this group well knows, is critical to your success. Part of our efforts in connection with the CCDO will involve the development of a "What Works" Web site - making available to communities information about proven programs, as well as providing an assessment/strategic planning tool.
We've already seen how neighborhood residents have turned into neighborhood leaders through their involvement in Weed and Seed and other community improvement initiatives.
People like Sheila Jennings, a single mother in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who turned her concern about drugs in her neighborhood into involvement in substance abuse prevention. She recruited and trained other parents in drug prevention, and has gone on to become involved in other efforts to improve her Westside neighborhood, including obtaining Official Recognition as a Weed and Seed site.
Or people like Pastor Mike Lohman of the Calvary Tabernacle Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, who created "God's Gym," a place that provides services and a safe haven for neighborhood residents.
Or people like 71-year-old Helen Trujillo in Phoenix, Arizona, who, tired of hearing the gunfire of neighborhood gangs, got involved in her local Weed and Seed program. She participated in the program's "Good Neighbor" training to learn how to report crime to police and how to work with city agencies to get things done.
A heart attack suffered while she was on patrol with police last New Year's Eve, working to prevent celebratory gunfire, hasn't slowed Helen down. She's back at work, helping the city's new mayor implement his "Front Porch" program to encourage neighbors to talk with each other from their front porches, be on the lookout for crime, and report trouble to police.
There are thousands of Helens, and Mikes, and Sheilas all across this country, all working to make their neighborhoods better places to live, work, and raise a family. These grass-roots volunteers are the hearts and souls of our neighborhood crime prevention efforts. They are putting the "power of prevention" to work.
I thank them - and all of you - for the work you are doing every day to move toward our shared goal of safety for every resident, in every neighborhood, in every community in our nation.
It gives me particular pleasure to introduce our next speaker.
Nelson Hernandez is the National Coordinator of Community Affairs at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Nelson manages FDIC's national community reinvestment, community development, and outreach efforts. In this capacity, he has vastly broadened the organizations, both public and private, that collaborate with FDIC to achieve its community development mission.
He's responsible for shepherding the highly successful Money Smart initiative, which helps low-income people learn how to manage their money. Last October, Nelson's work on this effort was recognized by the Partnership for Public Service, which presented him with a Service to America Medal.
In his past life, among other things, he served as the Los Angeles Area UD Director - so his knowledge of many of the issues with which you must wrestle is broad and deep.
Today, Nelson will talk about Money Smart and the Community Reinvestment Act, and how those efforts dovetail with other community improvement initiatives. But first, I am pleased to have the honor of announcing - and you are the first to hear this - that on March 15th, Nelson will join OJP as the Director of our newly created Community Capacity Development Office. In that capacity, he will work closely with Bob Samuels and our Weed and Seed office, as well as with you and all our community strategic planning and problem-solving collaborative efforts. We are excited to welcome Nelson to OJP and know he will bring a fresh vision, and tremendous energy to our broader efforts. Please welcome Nelson Hernandez.