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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

October 3, 2007

Acting Director Michael Sullivan’s Remarks at the National Native American Law Enforcement Association’s 15th Annual National Training Conference
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Memphis, Tennessee

Thanks, Joe (Wicks, President NNALEA).

It’s always an honor to be able to speak to this dedicated group of law enforcement professionals and tribal leaders.

Frankly, of all the conferences I attend each year, this is one I really look forward to because everyone attending shares a common mission and a common desire — to make the Native American community, and for that matter, every community a safer place to live and raise a family.

ATF is committed to helping you accomplish this goal and proud of the partnerships that our two organizations have forged over the years. As you’ve seen in the past and will continue to see well into the future, when ATF’s help is requested in working a case in Indian Country, WE WILL BE THERE FOR YOU. That’s what good partners do, and that’s what we will continue to do.

An important ingredient to any good partnership is mutual respect. I want to mention, up front, that I am a firm believer that ALL law enforcement efforts on tribal trust land MUST include the Tribal Police.

This is your land. ATF agents come onto your land when they are invited to do so; we are there to support you, to assist you, and to offer whatever resources we can.

You have my promise that ATF will always be in your corner helping to further your investigations and make your communities safer. We will never fail to share information, intelligence or our resources with the Native American community.

Moving forward in this vital partnership with your organization, it is also my hope that ATF will continue to have the opportunity to benefit from the history, experience and tradition available in this room.

Being from Massachusetts, near Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, I am most familiar with the history and the civil dedication of the Wampanoag Tribe.

Going back generations in Massachusetts, the Wampanoag have been working with the neighboring towns and cities to ensure that the entire region is safe and secure, understanding early on that it takes a few special individuals, like law enforcement, to make sure the people are secure, but it takes the whole community to make certain the public is safe.

These proud traditions of civil commitment and community dedication among Native Americans extend well beyond these philosophies regarding public safety and communal security. History is replete with examples of Native Americans answering the call when their service is needed to help protect the public from harm.

In World War II, for example, scholars and historians believe that the allied victory in the pacific wasn’t assured until the Navajo Code Talkers became the cornerstone of the American communications strategy.

The seminal battles of World War II, and for that matter, the major battles of this century were fought and won because of the partnerships, skills and commitment to service embodied by the Navajo Nation.

This is just a few examples of the experience, history and tradition that I would like to see ATF benefit from, which is one reason why I am so dedicated to building a successful working relationship with this distinguished organization.

While building this partnership into the future, however, it will be important for us to remember - while each agency represented here can ensure that the communities they serve are secure; it is only working together as a team, that we can truly make certain the public is safe.

Before I go any further I’d like to thank your president, Joe Wicks, for all the good work he’s done to help ATF become a better partner to Native American law enforcement.

Joe is first and foremost a teacher. He spends a good deal of time trying to educate the ATF community about Native American history, culture, and values. I believe that his efforts are an invaluable resource for all ATF employees and the Bureau as a whole.

His efforts help give our special agents some knowledge, perspective, and understanding, that hopefully makes us better at our jobs when we go into Indian Country to assist you with an investigation.

As part of his focus on education, Joe has put a lot of time and hard work into assembling an impressive historical study of 19th Century Native American Law Enforcement Officers and their historic role in the evolution of Tribes in the United States. Thank you for your efforts, Joe.

I’d also like to acknowledge Dewey Webb, our Special Agent in Charge at ATF’s Houston Field Division who — like Joe — has worked hard to help ATF become a better partner to the Native American law enforcement community.

Dewey recently stepped forward to help out the National Native American Law Enforcement Association at a difficult time.

When Jim Wooten lost his battle with cancer in May, Dewey stepped in to complete Jim’s three-year assignment as Senior Director on your Executive Board. I want to personally thank Dewey for stepping up to the plate when he was needed, and I want to thank him for his commitment to this important and vital organization.

I’d like to once again offer my personal condolences to all of you regarding the passing of Jimmy Wooten, your former president and a former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Jimmy was only 59 when he died, but he packed an awful lot of living into those years. I understand that as a young man he was initially recruited by the FBI — but chose instead to be an ATF Special Agent.

That was a certainly lucky break for ATF.

We’re glad Jimmy made such a wise career decision, because he helped take an impressive number of bad guys off the street during the 30 years he spent with us.

Jimmy Wooten loved his work, he loved his family, he loved traveling with his wife, Ruth, and he loved living everyday to its fullest.

I never had the opportunity to spend time with Jimmy, but from what I understand he was the kind of guy who tried his best at everything he did. He was someone you could count on to be there, and to give everything to get the job done. He was someone who tried his best, who didn’t give up easily.

I think that particular trait of Jimmy’s —his refusal to give up — is the perfect example of the attitude we all need to adopt when drugs, guns and violence seem to be taking a daily toll in our communities.

As I’m sure you have seen from your experience as law enforcement professionals, escalating gang activity, mounting gun violence and the rampant abuse of methamphetamines, can all combine to create a self perpetuating cycle of violence.

It’s a lot for any neighborhood, for any community to endure and oftentimes it seems like every step we take to correct the problem is countered by three steps in the opposite direction.

But much like the lessons we learned from the life of Jimmy Wooten, we can never stop trying to gain ground in addressing these problems. We must never give up, and I can promise you that ATF will never relinquish our role in helping to eradicate violence from every neighborhood and every community throughout the nation.

Time and time again, the best tool we can use to address any trend in drug use or violent crime has always been effective cooperation. All of us working together…ATF, Native American as well as non-Native American law enforcement officers, tribal and community leaders, our criminal and juvenile justice professionals, first responders, attorneys and prosecutors can each contribute in addressing this problem from as many angles as possible.

Working alone, none of us are big enough to tackle the problem of gangs, gun violence and drugs. But together, working as a team, as partners, we can and will formulate an enforcement strategy that strikes at the root of these recent trends.

Moving past the basics of our partnerships, if we are to have any chance in our battle against gun violence and the drugs that fuel it, we also must become a coordinated force.

Coordinating a multitude of agencies into one singular effort during a joint investigation requires that EVERYBODY is working from the same page. It’s as simple as that. It requires good communication among all the team members, and it requires constant sharing of intelligence and information.

I can tell you from personal experience — you can’t conduct an effective investigation unless all the members of that team are working as a cohesive unit. That means you know what I know when I know it, and vice-versa. It can’t work any other way.

Sharing information while you’re working a case together is crucial.

Our ATF Agents understand this fundamental concept. They are taught that good partnerships make for good investigations; they are taught that effective police work cannot happen without effective teamwork; they are taught that teams cannot function unless the members respect each other, trust each other, and share information.

Information-sharing during joint investigations is absolutely essential to our shared success. That is ATF’s philosophy, and that is my personal philosophy. When your law enforcement professionals are working a joint investigation with ATF, you’re going to know what ATF knows, when we know it.

ATF has a solid and well-deserved reputation for building good partnerships, for communicating information, for sharing our resources, and for being a good team player.

In 2006, for example, the Igloo Gangster Crips were put out of business following a joint investigation by ATF, the OGG-La-La Sioux Tribe, the FBI, and the Department of Public Safety. This was a team effort… a four-year investigation that resulted in 29 indictments on firearm and drug distribution charges, followed by 29 convictions.

This very successful outcome could not have happened without the outstanding contributions of each team member, and ATF was proud to be a part of your team.

As you all know, ATF plays a major role in a Justice Department initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods. PSN is a comprehensive, nationwide program that came into existence in 2001 and continues to be this country’s largest and most visible effort to combat violent crime and gang activity at the community level.

I’m proud to announce that Project Safe Neighborhoods is unveiling a new public service campaign that is pitching a slightly different message than we’ve used in the past. This new message is based on new information we acquired fairly recently.

We already knew that guns are about five times more likely to be used in a murder than any other weapon.

We knew that young people between the ages of 14 and 25 are at highest risk for using illegal guns.

We knew that a significant number of young people in this age group are immersed in a culture of violence and that, not surprisingly, about 30 percent of all homicide victims fall within this particular age group… this ‘high risk’ group of 14 to 25-year-olds.

We knew that the young people who commit gun crimes are NOT deterred from their violent activities by the threat of injury or death to themselves, or the possibility of spending many, many years in a federal prison. That clearly doesn’t seem to faze them.

In some cases, violence and mayhem are a part of their every day lives. Death is an acceptable risk for them; and in their universe, severe physical injuries or a trip to the federal penitentiary are status symbols.

So if imminent death or prison time doesn’t scare them, what does?

What scares these young people most is the EFFECT their death or imprisonment may have on their FAMILIES… on their mother, in particular, and also on other family members such as brothers or sisters, nieces and nephews, grandparents….

That’s what hits home for them. If I go to prison, what will it do to my mom? What will it do to my little sister?

The family -keeping it together, protecting it from harm-is now a big part of this new PSN message that will soon be hitting the streets, and the airways.

I believe this message will have a strong impact in your communities and throughout the nation.

Being the father of teenagers myself, I know from firsthand experience it’s hard to say anything that young people will pay attention to, which is why we’ve tailored the PSN message in the way that we have.

We knew that to get the attention of young people we had to really grab them, and show how their actions have consequences that spread well beyond their individual world.

When you join a gang, when you get involved with methamphetamines… when you hurt or kill someone with a gun… you’re not just hurting yourself…you are hurting your family.

Being in law enforcement we see it every day, we understand that a fatal shooting is not just an event involving two individuals. It’s not just the shooter and his victim.

When someone engages in an activity like doing drugs, or pulling a gun and resorting to violence, entire families- entire neighborhoods can become entwined in the aftermath.

Everyone has seen a little kid throw a rock into a pond to see how big a splash he can make. And while the child is focused on the size and noise surrounding the splash itself, the ripples from that rock will eventually reach the every part of the adjacent shore.

A fatal bullet, or poor choice with regard to gangs or drugs, will do much the same thing… the collateral effects from that one choice will undoubtedly travel out well beyond the kid and his splash, reaching and engulfing an ever widening circle of people - family members, neighbors, friends, and other loved ones.

Young people have to be shown that a simple life choice, to join a gang, to experiment with drugs, or to get into a fight, has inevitable and oftentimes incalculable consequences well beyond their own desire to make the splash.

This is why Project Safe Neighborhood’s new public service campaign, called Reducing Gun Violence, is targeting NOT ONLY the high risk group of 14 and 25-year-olds --we’re also targeting the PARENTS AND OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS of these high risk young people.

We’re giving these family members some ammunition of their own, some tools for discussion in persuading that young person NOT to get involved with methamphetamines, NOT to get involved with a gang, NOT to carry or use an illegal gun.

PSN’s new message will be delivered throughout the country, via television, radio and outdoor ads. It is a powerful and moving message; one that I personally believe is going to hit home with a lot of high risk young people in Indian Country and throughout the nation.

I think it’s a step in the right direction, and one of the best ways to get today’s youth thinking beyond themselves, to think as part of a family, as part neighborhood or a member of the community.

PSN is the type of program that can only benefit from the strong partnership between ATF and the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. It is this type of strategy that must be included as a part of our overall effort to make every neighborhood safer.

I am always heartened whenever our special agents can help you work a successful case in Indian Country. It gives me a good feeling, and a deep sense of satisfaction to know that my agency did something to help.

I can promise you that ATF will always be there when called upon for assistance, whether it be with an investigation, resources or a program like Project Safe Neighborhoods.

I want you to know that we at ATF regard it as an honor and a privilege to be called your partner. We will continue to do everything we can to help you in your efforts to protect and serve the Native American community. It is a responsibility and a commitment we take very seriously.

I hope that you enjoy the next few days of the conference. There is an impressive list of workshops being offered and it is my hope that you all have had the opportunity take advantage of these unique training experiences.

Thank you again for the invitation to come and speak to you today and I look forward to our continued partnership.