PREPARED REMARKS FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES
AT THE USAO MULTI-DISTRICT
PROJECT SAFE NEIGHBORHOODS / GANGS CONFERENCE
WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA
Good afternoon. Thank you very much for that introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here.
I hope that everyone had a good Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for in this region and throughout this great country. Not the least of which are the countless public servants who work every day to make our neighborhoods safer and to protect our children from guns and gangs and violence.
As this country’s chief law enforcement officer, I want to acknowledge the important work you are doing. Thank you for your service and for all your efforts to keep America’s communities safe.
Recognizing outstanding work in the Department is one of my favorite things about being Attorney General. And I had the chance to do that recently when Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Jackson was presented with the EOUSA Director’s award for her work on Project Safe Neighborhoods and prosecuting gun crime. Jane’s work in the Eastern District of North Carolina is a fine example of public service, and I was honored to be a part of a ceremony to recognize her efforts.
A few weeks ago, I also had the opportunity to attend an awards ceremony honoring federal law enforcement officers for outstanding bravery. I was proud again that a few members of the Department of Justice family were singled out for their heroic efforts.
In addition, at that event we took the time to remember and honor those federal agents who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
The ceremony was a powerful reminder that every member of the law enforcement and public service communities has chosen to serve others - in many cases electing to put the safety of strangers above their own. I want you to know that I understand and I sincerely appreciate the sacrifices that accompany this choice.
Every American sleeps better knowing that we have men and women standing guard, keeping watch, and preserving our safety. And every American owes a debt of gratitude for both your daily commitment to duty and your extraordinary acts of bravery - walking a beat, conducting an investigation, or standing up for justice in a courtroom.
Some people might not understand - or they forget - how difficult, and at times dangerous, your jobs can be. But everyone in North Carolina got a reminder Monday, when State Trooper J.C. Horniak was shot multiple times during a traffic stop. A convicted killer wanted for parole violations has been arrested and charged with this crime. The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the law enforcement community are with Trooper Horniak and his family as he recovers in the hospital. He is, thankfully, a living example of the dangers of gun violence.
Events such as this one remind the public of the important role of the law enforcement community. And even when they don’t have the chance to say thank you directly, they always appreciate the end result of your service - safer streets, less crime, and a steady enforcement of the rule of law.
I’ve had the opportunity on a personal level to see what it means to serve others in this way. I’ve long admired my brother’s choice to join the Houston Police Department. My little brother Tony is a SWAT officer and 26-year vet. I’ve always been proud of his dedication to the force…and to the lives he impacts each and every day.
Tony has told me that the most heart-breaking cases he deals with involve teens and young adults. Somehow, somewhere, these kids started down a wrong path, they got into trouble, and many have dropped out of school. One of the reasons this happens is that too many of our youngsters do not have positive role models.
Tony understands - as I know each of you do - that he is a role model for young people in the community he serves. Sadly, it is sometimes the case that you are the only role models in the neighborhoods you serve. There is, perhaps, no more important element of your job than mentoring the next generation of community leaders…and showing today’s children that there is a better future ahead.
Watching my brother’s long career with the Houston Police Department has also reinforced a lesson that I have learned during my time in government service. As I am sure you all agree, it is often the families who sacrifice the most. I know that my sister-in-law, Kris, hugs Tony as he goes to work each day, knowing that he faces unknown dangers with every shift.
Therefore, I would like to salute your families. The wives, mothers and daughters, the husbands, fathers and sons who support you serve our Nation, too.
So I would encourage everyone here today - especially those of you who put on a uniform in the morning and say goodbye to a loving spouse or an adoring child - to spend time with your family. No arrest, no investigation, no prosecution is as satisfying as a hug or a smile from your loved ones.
They deserve a measure of credit for a country that promotes the rule of law, and they share your legacy of working together for safer communities, lower crime, and a more secure nation.
Today, I am pleased to announce another step in our ongoing fight for safer neighborhoods here in North Carolina and across the country. This past June, I announced the activation of the National Sex Offender Public Registry web site. This tool provides real-time access to nationwide sex offender data with a single Internet search. As of today, North Carolina will be part of this valuable public-safety resource, allowing parents and concerned citizens to access information from a total of 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Efforts to integrate North Carolina into this important registry are part of our overall collective fight for safer communities. It’s a fight that occurs person-by-person, block-by-block, city-by-city. And in the course of this battle, federal agents and local law enforcement officers are often asked to insert themselves in dangerous situations - sometimes made even more dangerous by the presence of a firearm - as it was yesterday for Trooper Horniak. Gun crime is a reality too many Americans face in neighborhoods across our country.
That is why your work together in the Project Safe Neighborhoods program is so incredibly important to the future of our nation.
As we know, in 2001, the President created Project Safe Neighborhoods to target gun crime - applying nationally the lessons learned from a number of successful local efforts across the country. And on behalf of the President, I’d like to salute your efforts to execute this proven program here in North Carolina. Project Safe Neighborhoods - here in North Carolina as well as across the country - must remain a top priority for all of us. One of my first acts as Attorney General was to reaffirm the Department's commitment to this important program. I stand by that commitment and appreciate the time and energy you spend in support of the PSN initiative.
PSN has established strong local partnerships in all of the 94 federal judicial districts - and it continues to be one of the Administration’s most successful initiatives.
Here are just a few of our accomplishments:
• Since its inception, federal gun crime prosecutions have increased by 73% nationwide - and you’ve done even better than that in many places here in North Carolina.
• Nearly all PSN convictions result in defendants being sentenced to hard time in federal prison.
• More than 15,000 people across the country have received training directly through PSN, and many thousands more have been trained by local PSN partners. I know that has been one of the reasons for your success here, and I hope it continues.
• We have collected and shared the most effective practices from across the country.
• PSN task forces are reaching out and engaging our communities through ad campaigns and prisoner re-entry initiatives. I was particularly pleased to see that you’ve focused on Hispanic outreach where it’s necessary in this State.
• Lastly, I’m pleased to report that we will continue to have resources for this important program, even in a tight budget year. While we did not receive everything we asked for, thanks to a lot of hard work, we’ve succeeded in convincing Congress to fund over 284 million dollars as part of PSN to target gun crime this year. This includes money for our state and local partners to continue their vital efforts on the front lines, as well as 40 millions dollars in new funding to target the violent gangs who often use guns to terrorize our communities.
I believe that these PSN accomplishments are some of the reasons that recent statistics show that the crime rate is at its lowest level in three decades. These efforts also help explain why the number of violent crime incidents involving a firearm is down more than one-third since 2000, before PSN began.
In its four years, PSN has improved the lives of so many in our communities - from the youth who participate in school outreach and mentoring programs…to the returning offenders who are given an opportunity for a better life…to the parents who no longer fear letting their children play in neighborhood parks.
For these reasons, I am thankful for the support PSN has received at both the federal and locals levels. But we must not become complacent. Our job is not yet complete. Despite the challenge of scarce resources and increasing demands on our time, we must remain committed to taking back our streets from armed criminals. We must bring federal law to bear on criminals who illegally use and possess firearms, and we must stand firm in our pledge to hold them accountable for their actions.
Project Safe Neighborhoods has demonstrated its ability to transform communities and touch the lives of real people. Because, in the end, Project Safe Neighborhoods is really about people - both the local partners that make it work…and the families we’re all charged with protecting.
Consider one of the most recent cases right here in the Winston-Salem area. When law enforcement found that Shamonte Arnell Green had used a .45 caliber handgun to kill two innocent victims in nearby Clemmons, North Carolina, the trail of violence stretched back many years. During a weekly PSN Task Force meeting, Green was identified as a Career Armed Criminal, with a record that includes four breaking and entering felonies, two armed robbery convictions, and assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon. In addition, ballistics evidence linked Green’s .45 handgun to an armed robbery, a drive-by shooting, and another burglary and armed robbery that had happened in a two-month span.
Thanks to the PSN Task Force and an investigation that included ATF, State investigators, the county sheriff’s office, city police department, and municipal alcoholic beverage control enforcement…Green was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He can no longer harm the citizens in this area.
In this case, and so many others, federal and local law enforcement officers are on the front lines. Without you, there would be far fewer prosecutions - and far less success in the PSN program.
Your local knowledge and expertise allows Project Safe Neighborhoods to identify the worst offenders. And then coordination and cooperation at every level helps us take the most violent criminals off our streets.
For example, here in North Carolina the Middle District U.S. Attorney’s office coordinates activities with regular meetings of the district-wide PSN Violent Crimes Task Force - the one that helped convict Shamonte Green. And a PSN Advisory Team consists of representatives from local law enforcement, community organizations, clergy, schools, DA’s offices, service providers, and others. With weekly meetings at the city level and monthly meetings at the district level, PSN partners are always up-to-date with the most important information, training, and preventative efforts.
This kind of cooperation at the federal and local level is what makes PSN so successful all across America.
Two of the most important players at the federal level are here in this room - the ATF agents who investigate firearms cases and the Assistant United States Attorneys who prosecute them. You are the foundation upon which this program is built. I ask for your sustained commitment to PSN so that I can stand before the President and the American people and tell them that the Department has used every means available to reduce gun crime in our communities.
It is through the hard work of ATF and our United States Attorneys, in collaboration with local partners, that we make good on the promise that gun crime means hard time. The result is not only locking away known bad actors, but also deterring others from harming innocent victims.
That deterrent factor recognizes that prosecuting people after they commit a gun crime is far less desirable than having them not commit the offense in the first place. The fact that a defendant receives a stiff sentence is of little consolation to a mother who has lost a son, or a son who has lost a father.
PSN’s outreach and prevention efforts are critical to the program’s success. We’ve used ad campaigns to send our message that “Gun Crime Means Hard Time,” and we’ve educated would-be criminals about the hardships that their own families will face if they are sentenced to federal prison. I know you’ve had great success with prevention programs in Winston-Salem and Salisbury - including the pioneering “follow up notifications” that help keep identified violent offenders crime free.
Overall, we know that our message is resonating when we hear stories of criminals pleading with police officers: “Please don’t take me federal.”
One story, in particular, shows that we are effectively turning a violent criminal’s “tool of the trade” - an illegal gun - into a significant liability. When a PSN task force was executing a search warrant for drugs, they knocked down a bathroom door and found a man cowering - still clutching a bag of crack cocaine in his hands - trying to flush a nine-millimeter down the toilet.
I know you’d agree that the federal and local agents working that case together were happy to see the suspect trying to get rid of that gun, rather than have him use it.
More and more, these are the kind of stories I hear from the field, and it is because of the determination, diligence, and sacrifices of people in this room - and law enforcement officers across the country - that our society is growing safer from gun crime every day.
But, of course, there is still plenty of work remaining. In particular, I continue to worry - as the Attorney General and as a father - about the challenge of gangs and gang violence.
More and more of our children are getting caught up in gang activity - which too often leads to gun violence. I think we can apply the proven methods of Project Safe Neighborhoods to fight the pervasive threat of gang violence.
For instance, I asked for a tailored strategy - in consultation with local partners - to combat each unique gang in every unique district. Different criminal groups employ different illegal methods, so there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution. With the help of local partners, every federal district submitted a plan to fight gang violence in their communities - with joint strategies for prevention and education, enforcement, and re-entry.
We’re also asking anti-gang coordinators in the districts to co-locate with local task force members to ensure maximum cooperation, intelligence sharing, and efficiency. And we’re doing the same thing at the highest level with an Anti-Gang Coordination Committee at Headquarters to organize all of the Department’s wide-ranging efforts to combat the scourge of gangs.
The effective principles of Project Safe Neighborhoods - especially the cooperation and coordination that makes PSN successful - will also help us take back our communities from gang members, drug dealers, and gun-toting criminals. We will prevail - and we will do it because of the commitment and dedication in this room.
Again, my sincere thanks for the job you do to protect Americans. Keep up the good work, because there is much more to do. We will be with you, working together, shoulder to shoulder, side by side.
May God watch over you and your families and may He continue to bless the United States of America.