Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Community Capacity Development Office Strategy Development Workshop
March 4, 2008
Thank you, Dennis [Greenhouse].
It’s a pleasure to be here with Dennis and the staff of our Community Capacity Development Office. . . and with all of you. I speak for everyone at the Office of Justice Programs when I say how much I appreciate all that you do to improve the quality of life in America’s communities.
I want to thank my fellow speakers and our hosts, U.S. Attorney Immergut, Mayor Potter, and Chief Sizer. I appreciate your presence, and I thank you for your leadership here in Portland and in Oregon. I also want to thank the representatives of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the many Weed and Seed coordinators from throughout the country who are with us today.
I’m glad to be in Portland. It’s a wonderful city – City of Roses. . . and the microbrew capital of the United States. Eclectic, one might say. But variety is, after all, the spice of life.
Portland recently played host to a national conference on the First Lady’s Helping America’s Youth Initiative. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the second time a HAY conference has been held here. Mrs. Bush is obviously a big fan of your city.
Our session here is an excellent way to follow up the HAY conference, because reaching our youth and revitalizing our communities go hand in hand. I was reminded of that during a series of visits to several cities that I made last year with my Justice Department colleagues. This tour of cities was an initiative coordinated in response to the crime data that we received from the FBI a couple of years ago showing that some cities were experiencing an increase in crime rates. These were slight upticks that were evident in select areas – by no means universal, and certainly not dramatic. But understandably, they caused some concerns, and we wanted to address those concerns.
So we visited 18 cities, one of which was Portland. Some cities were among those with elevated crime rates, others had stable or lower rates. We wanted to find out what challenges were facing those communities, and how we could help.
As you might expect, we heard that each city had unique issues. At the same time, we identified several underlying themes, and I’m sure many of you will recognize them. For example, we found that:
- Juvenile violence is becoming more serious, with a younger population of offenders committing more violent acts.
- Gang members, some of them as young as 12 and 13, are carrying firearms and using them impulsively and recklessly.
- Large numbers of released felons are entering communities and coming into contact with young people. This has the effect of creating a kind of criminal mentoring system.
I dare say you can see a pattern. Youth crime has become a serious problem in some communities.
Weed and Seed sites across the country are ahead of the curve in addressing this problem. You need look no farther than right here in the Portland area to find evidence of successful approaches to fighting youth crime and delinquency.
Just east of here, in the city of Gresham, the Rockwood Weed and Seed site is working to reduce juvenile delinquency by giving young people better opportunities and by holding them accountable for their actions. Law enforcement is actively engaged with community groups and health and social service agencies. The community boasts a strong Police Activities League program, which serves some 2,600 youth each year. The PAL program runs educational and recreational activities and provides mentors to at-risk youth.
Rockwood Weed and Seed also is a partner in the Gresham Community Court. The community court concept is one that OJP strongly supports. Our Community Capacity Development Office has helped to support operating costs for a number of Weed and Seed-based community courts, including several right here in the Portland area. And our Bureau of Justice Assistance provides both grant funding and technical assistance for the maintenance of community court systems.
Community courts are part of a larger problem-solving approach to reducing crime and enlarging the capacity of the criminal justice system. They, and other problem-solving initiatives like youth courts and drug courts, maximize the potential of justice system and community resources by integrating social services, allowing for ongoing judicial monitoring, and involving community members. These are principles that have guided Weed and Seed programs for years.
The Rockwood site also has an active program of outreach to the Hispanic community. The Gresham Police provide bilingual trainings for residents to inform them of local laws and services. In addition, Rockwood is home to a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Center, which works with low-income families to help them take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Working with AARP, Cash Oregon, and other local partners, the center filed 315 federal returns in 2006, resulting in almost $350,000 in tax refunds. An important element of Weed and Seed to bear in mind as we enter the tax season.
Farther to the east, in the spectacular area around Mt. Hood, the Clackamas County Weed and Seed program is working to address the problems confronting many rural areas throughout the United States, namely drugs. . . and particularly methamphetamine and marijuana.
Clackamas and the surrounding area have had a high concentration of meth labs and have long been vulnerable to drug dealers and traffickers. Washington and Multnomah counties, which are next to Clackamas, rank first and second in the state for the number of meth lab seizures.
A few years ago, community residents banded together to form the Mt. Hood Coalition Against Drug Crime to address this problem. The coalition worked closely with law enforcement and received recognition as a Weed and Seed site in 2004. With some funding help from CCDO, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office was able to begin focusing its efforts on meth lab seizures.
The sheriff’s office also has been able to target resources to fighting the illegal use of marijuana. Marijuana can be used for medical purposes in Oregon, so fighting its illegal use is arguably more complicated here than in other states. Nevertheless, the sheriff’s office has had some important successes. In one case, the sheriff’s office arrested a couple after 711 marijuana plants with a street value of more than $2 million were found on their property. Sadly, the couple had two young children, and they were taken into protective custody by the Department of Human Services.
This points up another serious problem – the impact of drugs on children and youth. Too often, when law enforcement officials find illegal drugs, they also find young people around. Sometimes, they’ve been neglected for days while their parents or caretakers have been on a binge. In many cases, they’ve been exposed to the toxic effects of drugs like meth.
Part of the Mt. Hood Weed and Seed strategy is to raise awareness of the effect of illegal drugs on young people. The coalition is working to improve access to treatment services and counseling centers, and it recently opened a place called “The Village PAL,” which serves as a youth activity and family resource center. The Village PAL is designed to steer kids away from destructive behaviors like drug use and truancy to healthy relationships with positive role models, including retired teachers and police officers.
Weed and Seed programs are active elsewhere in the Portland area as well. South of Portland, for example, the Woodburn site has trained its focus on at-risk youth. Law enforcement efforts focus on gang suppression for youth and young adults who have been identified as gang-involved, and a community policing initiative is working to reduce recidivism by holding youth accountable for violations of gang probation. Seeding efforts involve engaging teens in programs in the parks and community centers.
And even farther south, in Molalla, another rural area, Weed and Seed partners are working to ensure that basic services like housing, employment, health care, and education are available to residents. The site has established a Latino Youth and Family Committee to engage its Hispanic population, and the faith community has taken an active role.
The success of the Weed and Seed sites here in the Portland area is representative of the success being achieved at Weed and Seed sites across the country. It’s gratifying to know that you’re dealing so thoroughly with the problems of juvenile violence and delinquency, and doing so by giving young people access to better options. Accountability and opportunity go hand in hand, and it’s good to see our Weed and Seed partners putting the two concepts together so well.
I’d like to circle back to what I said earlier about the visits that my Justice Department colleagues and I made in late 2006 and early 2007. Our purpose in making those visits was exploratory. As I said, we wanted to find out why crime was up in some areas and stable or down in others.
One of the lessons of our visits, as if we didn’t know it already, was that this business of analyzing and interpreting crime data is complicated. From a statistical standpoint, labeling something a trend is fraught with risk. There are generally too many variables for a responsible researcher or criminologist to make such a claim. In the case of the recent crime data, we recognized that it was premature to look at upticks in some cities as a sign of a gathering storm, and sure enough, new data have borne us out. But we also know that the individual problems faced by particular communities merit our attention and our action.
We’re working hard to address those local issues. Nobody knows better than you that we’re now facing a time when it’s critical that we make maximum use of the resources we have – from grant funding to community partnerships. Those resources aren’t always to be found where we’re used to looking for them. . . but they’re there. And one of the advantages of an agency like the Office of Justice Programs is the flexibility we have to design programs that meet the needs of our stakeholders.
One of the themes we heard during our city visits was the importance of partnerships – partnerships across disciplines and across levels of government. Sound strategies develop out of strong alliances. That’s both the premise and the lesson of Weed and Seed. I see our role in OJP as helping to transmit that lesson. We are, and will continue to be, committed to providing our state and local partners with the knowledge, tools, and abilities they need to successfully perform their jobs and make America’s communities safer for our citizens.
We’re also taking a very targeted approach to fighting crime. It looks a little different from the way we’ve done things in the past, but our goal is to give communities the opportunity to decide for themselves how to fight the specific public safety problems they’re facing. This strategic approach, which gives communities considerable flexibility in designing crime-fighting programs, is reflected in the President’s budget request for 2009.
The President’s proposed budget consolidates more than 70 Department of Justice discretionary grant programs into 4 larger, multi-purpose programs. All told, the President’s budget request for the Department of Justice includes more than $1 billion in discretionary grant assistance. Funds will be available to address violent crime, gun and gang violence, drug crimes, offender reentry, school safety, online child sexual exploitation, and other high priorities.
These funds will be made available to non-government organizations, localities, states, and tribes through a competitive process. Again, the point is to identify where the need is greatest and determine where the resources can do the most good.
Limited resources require that we adopt an approach that allows us to be adaptable and flexible. That is what the President’s Budget would enable. We recognize that change from past practice can be uncomfortable, but it is also motivating. It causes us to think in new ways, and that engenders creativity and innovation, which, as you know, are the keys to successful crime-fighting.
I encourage you all to continue as you have done – to think creatively and collaboratively, to think hard about the problems facing your communities, and to consider how you can allocate your own resources most effectively, and how OJP can leverage its resources to help you. We’re looking to you to develop meaningful strategies to reduce and deter crime and restore our neighborhoods.
Weed and Seed has been central to the positive transformation of communities throughout the country. It has led the way in applying many of the principles that we now accept as integral to ensuring public safety – partnership, community involvement, the incorporation of human services in the justice system response. These are all principles that we embrace, and we want very much to continue to be part of the good work that you’re doing.
I want to thank you for your time, and for your commitment to the health and safety of your communities. Thank you, and best wishes for a successful conference.