Attorney General Eric Holder: Aurora a central front in war on terror

eric holder.jpg
Eric Holder.
Most of Attorney General Eric Holder's prepared remarks to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference today are of the attaboy variety: At one point, he says, "I have come to Denver today with one simple message from Washington: 'We got your back.'" But there are also plenty of references spurred by the arrest of Afghanistan-born DIA-shuttle driver turned terror suspect Najibullah Zazi. "Just two weeks ago, the coordinated efforts of the Justice Department and local law enforcement personnel in New York and here in Colorado helped thwart one such threat," his speech reads at one point -- and shortly thereafter, there's this: "Few casual observers would cite a mid-sized city like Aurora, Colorado, as a central battleground in the fight against terrorism. But you and I know better. We know that every city and town in America - and therefore every law enforcement official in America - has a role to play in the fight against terrorism."

Read the entire speech below:

Thank you, Chief Laine, for that kind introduction.

Chief Whitman, thank you for hosting the IACP in your home city.

And IACP Executive Director Dan Rosenblatt, thank you for your strong leadership of this outstanding organization.

Officers and Members of the Board of Directors, friends, and colleagues. It is my great pleasure to be able to join you today for the first time as Attorney General.

Eight months ago, Vice-President Biden administered to me the Oath of Office - an oath not dissimilar to the one sworn by each of you -- to defend this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Since that time, it has been my solemn privilege to stand with you as you work tirelessly and selflessly to animate the meaning of those words, and to do honor to the uniforms you so proudly wear.

Together we have walked the Pathways of Remembrance and silently lighted candles at the Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial in honor of your 133 brothers and sisters who lost their lives in the line of duty last year.

Together we have grieved with the husbands and wives, daughters and sons, for whom the steady march of time will never ease the burden of the loss they suffered on September 11th, 2001.

And together we have commemorated feats of heroism performed by your fellow law enforcement officers, who acted for no other reason than the noble realization that "duty called."

As Attorney General, I have traveled our country and watched many of you in action, and I have personally witnessed the dramatic results of your daunting tasks. I have seen your efforts manifested in children who are learning in safer schools; in teenagers who now have a park or a project or a basketball court to help them stay on course; in senior citizens who are unafraid to sit on their porch or to walk to the grocery store; and in neighborhoods that have been reclaimed from drugs, violence, and despair.

All of these experiences have only confirmed what I have known to be true throughout my career as a prosecutor, as a judge, and as a Department of Justice official: you, our police chiefs and the officers who serve under your command, are guardians of the democracy we cherish. Your courage and unwavering dedication help ensure that Americans are free to safely enjoy the blessings of liberty that our Constitution promises to all.

To be sure, your dedication has been sorely tested. Faced with a battered economy that has provided twin challenges - joblessness on the streets, and budget cuts in the precincts -- the work of law enforcement officers has never been harder. And so, during this era of challenges, it is our profound duty to band together, to work together, to struggle together, and to support one another in every way possible.

Accordingly, I have come to Denver today with one simple message from Washington: "We got your back."

One of the first lessons we teach rookie cops who are about to hit the streets is, "You are never alone." No matter the situation, no matter the threat, backup is just a call away. And the promise we make to those officers is that when they place that call, we will send the help they need -- immediately.

Chiefs, that is the same pledge I make to you today.

We are already making good on that promise. Although we are still in the early days of this new Administration, we already have repeatedly demonstrated our commitment to developing a stronger, more supportive relationship between the Justice Department and state and local law enforcement. As many of you remember, one of our very first actions upon taking office was to reach out to you through our Office of Justice Programs and the COPS Office. We wanted you to know, I wanted you to know, right from the start that responding to your needs would be a top priority for this Justice Department.

We have built upon this framework in a number of ways. For instance, this past April we convened a law enforcement summit in Washington to identify key priorities and to examine lessons learned from ongoing initiatives. We have already used what we learned at that summit in tangible ways, such as formulating decisions about resources and strategies in our crime-fighting partnerships.

Also, in July we held a conference with our partners in the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere. We focused not on our work in Washington, but on how we can better work together at the local level by supporting such efforts as fusion centers that help break down the barriers to information-sharing that have been allowed to hinder our efforts for far too long.

And just six weeks ago, we hosted the White House Conference on Gang Violence Prevention and Crime Control. This conference brought together mayors, police chiefs, and other criminal justice leaders from around the country, face-to-face, to share examples of ground-breaking innovations to address age-old problems like youth violence, guns, drugs, and gangs.

But as important as it is to foster a stronger national dialogue between federal, state, and local law enforcement, talk alone is not enough. Talk alone isn't going to keep crime rates down. Talk alone isn't going to protect innocent victims. Talk alone isn't going to stop rival gangs from shooting up our streets, or drug dealers from peddling dope in our schools, or terrorists from attacking our cities. Indeed, we all know that the best ideas in the world are worth little without the resources to implement them.

That's why one of the first actions this Administration took was to secure $4 billion in the American Recovery Act to support criminal justice efforts. This wasn't increased funding for the Justice Department; rather, this was a huge infusion of cash sent from Washington directly to you in states and municipalities so that it could have an immediate impact on your departments. Whether through the Byrne JAG grants or new COPS grants, our top priority has been cutting through the bureaucratic maze and delivering resources quickly and efficiently. And I am proud to say that virtually every dollar of those recovery funds has now reached our cities, states, and localities.

The tangible result of this funding commitment has been felt in jurisdictions large and small. For instance, we have provided more than $120 million to rural areas, which will create or retain nearly 700 law enforcement jobs. Recovery Act funds are also being used for officer training and safety measures, homicide clearance, and the implementation of evidence-based approaches. And we have funded multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, technology programs, and basic bread-and-butter needs like police cruisers and office equipment.

In virtually all of these efforts, our Community Oriented Police Services Office -- better known as the "COPS office" -- has played a vital role. The men and women in that office work closely with you on a daily basis to better understand your specific challenges, and to better serve your needs.

Given the longstanding relationship between the COPS office and you, our nation's police chiefs, I can think of no better place for the announcement I am about to make. And so, it is with great pleasure that I announce to you today that one of your own has agreed to become the new Director of the COPS office -- Bernard Melekian, the chief of police in Pasadena, California.

Many of you know Chief Melekian well. He has served the people of Pasadena with tremendous skill since 1996. Prior to his appointment there as chief, he served with great distinction with the Santa Monica Police Department for 23 years. In fact, while in Santa Monica, Bernie was awarded the Medal of Valor in 1978 and the Medal of Courage in 1980.

Because Bernie comes from your ranks, you can be certain that he shares your goals and understands your needs. And I know that he will be a tremendously effective link between Washington and the cities and towns where you serve.

One of Bernie's most important new missions will be to help lead a drive to innovate in the area of law enforcement operations. We can no longer afford to view technology and data-driven approaches with suspicion, or to stick with established procedures simply because "that's how it's always been done." On the contrary, in concert with you, this Justice Department will embrace new ideas and new technologies that can make everyone's efforts more effective as we fulfill our essential obligation to protect our fellow citizens.

New approaches will also help us augment the traditionally reactive approach to law enforcement with one that can actually prevent crime before it even occurs. As just one example, many of you in larger jurisdictions already are embracing computer models to map where crime is most likely to occur. This approach allows you to deploy your officers to areas where they can most effectively disrupt criminal activity. And yet, while many of the best-known examples of statistical modeling are taking place in large cities, we know that many of the same approaches can be just as effective in smaller cities as well.

I want the Justice Department to be a partner with you as we develop the most up-to-date thinking about law enforcement strategies. Therefore, I have directed our Office of Justice Programs to transform itself into an evidence-based agency that supports strong research, that shares scientifically-reliable findings that will ultimately help you do your jobs better and then provides the funds necessary to make sound theory into viable reality. I am confident that this new direction will ultimately help you take advantage of new approaches that will greatly assist you in your efforts to further the cause of justice.

In this regard let me be clear on one point -- I strongly support removing the D Block spectrum from auction so that it can be allocated directly to our nation's public safety officers.

It is long past time to build the nationwide interoperable communications network we so desperately need in order to keep our nation safe during emergencies. Let's get it done!

I am confident that we have gotten off to a good start -- a very good start. But I also know that a good start means nothing if we don't make the effort to follow through every day. Because it's clear that the threat to our streets and our safety - both from petty criminals and from international terrorists -- continues to confront us on a daily basis.

Just two weeks ago, the coordinated efforts of the Justice Department and local law enforcement personnel in New York and here in Colorado helped thwart one such threat. Working together in a multi-agency, coordinated investigation, we disrupted what we believe was a plot to kill scores of Americans by detonating explosives here in the homeland. More work remains to be done on this matter. It is my firm belief though that the outstanding work of personnel at the federal, state, and local level in monitoring and apprehending those committed to doing us harm may very well have saved us from an unspeakable tragedy. And though this case provides a particularly high-profile example of successful collaboration between agencies and departments, it is just one example of the work that we do together every day.

This case highlights another important point as well. Few casual observers would cite a mid-sized city like Aurora, Colorado, as a central battleground in the fight against terrorism. But you and I know better. We know that every city and town in America -- and therefore every law enforcement official in America -- has a role to play in the fight against terrorism. And I am committed to providing you with the tools and expertise you need to do your part.

For in the end, the safety of our nation's citizens lies in your hands -- and in the hands of your officers.

You, the servants of the public good, are sometimes called the thin blue line. This label conveys a sense that only a fragile barrier separates chaos from order; violence from tranquility. And yet, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, you may be too few in number, but you make up for that deficiency in grit, resolve, and determination. The thin blue line that keeps our nation lawful, that keeps our nation hopeful, that keeps our nation peaceful, isn't fragile -- it's made from the finest, toughest material I know of -- the men and women of local law enforcement. That knowledge makes me proud to serve with you as Attorney General, and I can assure you that it provides great inspiration and comfort to each and every American.

And so, chiefs, thank you for everything you do. And most especially, thank you for answering the call of duty, and thank you for so courageously serving the public good.

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