Remarks as Delivered
Good morning. Thank you for that warm welcome and thank you, Mayor Suarez — I’m not sure where he went — for the kind introduction. And congratulations to the mayor for inauguration as the 80th President of this conference.
I have deep respect for the work of the mayors every single day, the work you are doing in your cities. Throughout our country’s history, the leadership of America’s mayors has been, and continues to be, essential in meeting our country’s greatest challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception. No one needs to describe to you the challenges the pandemic has posed to our cities — or the stress it has placed on our public servants who keep our communities safe, who keep our streets clean, who deliver public health services, who teach our children, who work in our court systems and who perform all the other services essential to the functioning of government. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. I also know that the pandemic is not the only challenge facing your cities.
Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the antisemitic terrorist attack on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, last Saturday. Saturday was the kind of day that mayors hope never comes — but that we at the Justice Department constantly prepare for. FBI operators, agents, negotiators and their logistical support teams train rigorously; FBI and Justice Department supervisors repeatedly run crisis scenarios; and Joint Terrorism Task Forces run countless exercises to develop and foster cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement.
I cannot say enough about how important that last point is — as anyone watching events as they unfolded could see. The many hours that the FBI and local police departments spend planning together for these kinds of crises are critical to saving lives when the unthinkable occurs.
I want to recognize the incredible bravery of Rabbi Cytron-Walker and his congregants, who used the skills they learned in active shooter trainings to respond to this terrible event. I want to recognize the incredible courage of local law enforcement officers and federal agents on the ground in Texas, including members of the Hostage Rescue Team, who went into a building knowing that inside was a man with a gun who said he had two bombs and was expecting to die. And I want to assure you that, even in this case, our work is not done. The FBI is now working full time to determine whether this perpetrator acted alone or with others.
On the morning after the attack, I briefed President Biden on the Justice Department’s response to the attack and on our ongoing efforts to evaluate the full range of threats our country faces. The President’s resolve was clear — we will not tolerate this. We will not tolerate attacks on synagogues or other houses of worship. We will not tolerate violence or threats of violence fueled by antisemitism, hatred, racism or bigotry of any kind.
Keeping our country safe and the American people safe is a core priority of the United States Department of Justice. A critical part of keeping our country safe is protecting it from foreign and domestic terrorism.
These are dangers that Justice Department law enforcement components work against all day, every day. And as I have said, they are dangers that we work against together with our state and local partners, without whom we cannot succeed.
Another important part of keeping our country safe is working alongside all of you to protect our communities from violent crime, and particularly the scourge of gun violence.
At the Justice Department, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the fight against violent crime, and we will use every tool at our disposal to protect our communities.
Last year, the department launched a comprehensive anti-violent crime strategy aimed at harnessing our resources of every relevant component in the department, including our United States Attorneys’ Offices, our litigating divisions, all of our law enforcement agencies and our grantmaking offices.
Recognizing the importance of anti-violent crime strategies that are tailored to individual communities, we directed each United States Attorney’s Office to work with its state and local partners to address the crime problem in those communities.
As a result, the FBI, ATF, DEA and U.S. Marshals Service partnered with state and local agencies and police departments to embed agents in homicide units, confiscate illegal firearms, disrupt violent drug trafficking and provide other support where needed.
We also strengthened our cornerstone initiative to reduce violent crime at the community level — called Project Safe Neighborhoods, which brings together mayors, police chiefs, other local agencies and our United States Attorneys to develop solutions to the most pressing violent crime problems facing the communities.
The department well understands that it is our mayors and their police departments who shoulder much of the work to disrupt and deter violent crime in their own cities.
So last year, we awarded $310 million in funding through the department’s COPS Office to directly support our law enforcement partners. This included more than $139 million to the COPS Hiring Program, which provides funding to cities and towns to hire more law enforcement officers and put more resources to work building community trust.
We also understand that our society frequently turns to law enforcement to address a wide array of social problems. Too often, police officers are the first ones called when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. Such calls unnecessarily lead to difficult and dangerous confrontations.
That is why we will continue to support programs to provide alternative approaches to engaging with people with problems that are better handled by non-law enforcement professionals.
We also know that promoting public trust between communities and law enforcement is essential to making both communities and policing safer. The department will continue to fulfill its duty to ensure the constitutional policing practices that promote the accountability necessary to build that public trust.
I strongly believe, as I am sure you do, that good officers want to work in systems that do not permit bad practices. So, in addition to our enforcement efforts, we are committed to providing financial support and technical assistance to our local law enforcement partners to implement policies and trainings that promote accountability and best policing practices.
In the year ahead, we will continue this work.
The President’s budget request for FY 22 includes a substantial increase in funding for the department to combat violent crime and gun violence, including the resources we will make available to mayors and police departments nationwide.
That includes $1 billion in grants to support local police departments and to help them build trust with the communities they serve. In addition, we are doubling down on our commitment to support and strengthen Project Safe Neighborhoods and give mayors and police chiefs the tools they need to reduce violent crime.
While many of the public safety challenges our cities face require a unique and tailored approach, gun violence is a universal challenge and one that demands comprehensive action.
Over the past 10 months, the Justice Department has taken a number of actions to prevent and disrupt the illegal use and trafficking of firearms: we proposed a new rule to curb the proliferation of ghost guns; we published model gun safety legislation for states; we established a new policy to strictly hold gun dealers accountable for willful violations of the law; we launched five cross-jurisdictional strike forces to disrupt illegal firearms trafficking in key corridors across the country; just over two weeks ago, we announced a new rule to enhance safe storage of firearms that builds on our efforts to reduce the risk of firearms falling into the wrong hands; and as a part of the President’s FY22 budget request, we are seeking $1.6 billion in funding for ATF. Included are funds that would expand ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network that city police departments use every day to trace crime guns.
Also included are funds that would double ATF’s capacity to investigate thefts from Federal Firearms Licensees. You all know as well as I do that every firearm stolen from a licensed dealer poses a threat to community safety, and to our law enforcement partners.
The Justice Department’s anti-violent crime strategy, and our initiatives to stem the rising tide of illegal guns, will help save lives.
But we know full well that to succeed, all of us — at the Justice Department and in mayor’s offices and police departments across the country — must work together.
Finally, yet another important part of keeping the American people safe is protecting those who serve the public from violence and unlawful threats of violence.
We have all seen that Americans who serve and interact with the public at every level —many of whom make our democracy work every day — have been targeted with violence and threats of violence.
These are our fellow citizens — who administer our elections, ensure our safe travel, teach our children, report the news, represent their constituencies and keep our communities safe. The very least we can do is to commit to keeping them safe.
Peacefully expressing a view or ideology — no matter how vociferously or how extreme — is protected by the First Amendment. But illegally threatening to harm or kill another person is not. There is no First Amendment right to unlawfully threaten to harm or kill someone. And bitter historical experience has made clear that the time to address threats is when they occur, not after a tragedy has struck.
The Justice Department will continue to do all it can to hold accountable those who target public servants with violence or illegal threats of violence. Indeed, today we are taking law enforcement action to that end.
But as with everything I have spoken about today, we know that success in stopping this kind of violence also depends on close cooperation with our local partners — who bear the lion’s share of the burden of protecting the people of their cities.
The United States Department of Justice is grateful to count our country’s mayors as our partners in all of our work to keep our country and our communities safe.
I appreciate the opportunity to join with you today. And I look forward to our continuing work together in the days to come.