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Gonzales at ATF Headquarters Announcing Expanded Justice Department Efforts and New Legislation to Combat Violent Crime
Washington, D.C. June 1, 2007
Thank you. I'm pleased to be here today to speak with you about the Department's efforts—including yours—to make America's neighborhoods safe. And I'm also pleased to be joined today by acting Director Sullivan and by United States Marshals Service Director Clark. President Bush and I are well aware that ATF plays a vital role in our efforts to eradicate violent crime. I wanted to thank you for what you do every day, and to let you know that you and your federal law enforcement counterparts will be an important part of what we do going forward. And I want to talk a little about what we've got planned along those lines. Here in Washington we are surrounded by symbols of America and what makes this country great. But America itself is to be found in our communities, in our neighborhoods, and in our families. It is there that our children, and their dreams, can be nurtured and allowed to grow. And it is there, at the local level, that crime most directly threatens those dreams. America cannot afford to be without the hopes of even a few of its children—we must do all that we can to keep every one of them safe and protected. Every neighborhood deserves to be a safe neighborhood. As federal law enforcement, you are not the local first responders to this kind of crime, but you have an important part in the fight nonetheless. Through the Violent Crime Impact Team, or VCIT, initiative, ATF uses innovative technology, and an integrated federal, state, and local strategy to identify, investigate, arrest and
prosecute the most violent criminals in the 25 cities where we have VCIT teams. This program has been tremendously successful, thanks in part to the support of your local law enforcement partners, and your federal partners in the DEA, FBI and the Marshals Service -- and we're going to be expanding it to more cities soon. One example of the success we've had with VCITs involves David Muska, who was a chiropractor in East Windsor, Connecticut. He also collected guns. And he and his wife were drug addicts. The VCIT in Hartford learned that several guns recovered by police could be traced back to the Muskas, and they launched an investigation. It turns out that for about a year he and his wife had been purchasing, and then trading, firearms for cocaine and heroin. In total, they trafficked 25 guns, and when they were arrested authorities seized another 88 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Both husband and wife pleaded guilty, and David Muska received a 101-month sentence – with no prior record, for simply putting guns into the hands of criminals. That sends a very strong message that those who put guns in the hands of those who should not have them will face serious consequences. I don't have to tell anyone here how dangerous that combination of guns and drugs can be. I don't have to remind anyone here of the kind of threat the Muskas' actions posed to the community and to law enforcement officers. By stopping this extensive guns-for-drugs trade, ATF and our local partners were able to dry up a significant source of illegal firearms in that area. They made neighborhoods safer, and we are going to build on success stories like this one. Now, we know that, overall, national crime rates by historical standards are at very low levels. However, as we anticipated recent data show slight increases in the number of violent crimes in 2005 and 2006. In general, it doesn't appear that the current data reveal nationwide trends. Rather, they show local increases in certain communities. Each community is facing different circumstances – and in many places, violent crime continues to decrease. But that doesn’t change how the families who live in those more-violent areas feel, and the daily challenges they must face. In those neighborhoods, mothers fear for their children. In those communities, gang members fight for domination. And on those streets, sometimes even the innocent – bystanders to neighborhood violence – lose their lives. We know that community-specific problems cannot successfully be tackled nationally or unilaterally because crime issues vary from city to city, and even between neighborhoods in a single city. Recently, at my direction, Department of
Justice officials visited 18 metropolitan areas across the country to talk with state and local law enforcement and others in the community. Some of those places had experienced increases in crime, others had seen decreases. And in our conversations we heard again and again that no one answer, no one approach, no one government agency can solve the violent crime problems these communities face. Each city’s solutions must be tailored to its particular situation, and in many jurisdictions we visited, local law enforcement is already employing creative solutions tailored to their city’s particular needs. To best address the varied crime challenges faced by communities around the nation, the way forward is at once simple and difficult, and it consists of local law enforcement working with community leaders to develop solutions that best suit their needs. At the Department of Justice, we want to partner with these communities and help in those efforts. Although the federal government does not bear the primary burden in fighting local crime, we do have some specialized expertise and resources that can assist local law-enforcement officials who do. We can offer the extra weight of federal prosecution when appropriate, and we possess the means to collect and disseminate best practices and training. Also, we can provide pretrial detention for felons who illegally possess firearms and, generally, longer prison terms without parole. For example, VCITs focus on hot spots of violent activity and work to ensure that violent criminals are arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated so that they can no longer terrorize the communities where they operate. More than 2,000 gang members, drug dealers, felons in possession of firearms and other criminals were arrested on local, state or federal charges through the VCIT initiative in 2006. These are dangerous people like David Muska, who put entire communities at risk. To keep this success going, we're expanding the program to include four additional cities. They are: Orlando, Florida; Mesa, Arizona; San Bernardino, California; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Each of these cities has seen an unacceptable increase in homicides or other violent crimes. And authorities in each have come forward and asked for our help. The new VCITs in these cities will use our proven model and work with the local experts to target the kinds of crime and the unique circumstances that have led to these increases. And we're also expanding the ATF's "Don’t Lie for the Other Guy" program,
developed in partnership with the National Shooting Sports Foundation. This program aims to educate federal firearms licensees on how to detect and deter illegal "straw purchases," enhance our partnership with licensees to prevent these purchases, and educate the public and licensees that engaging in straw purchases is illegal under federal law. Now, I want to acknowledge the good work being done not just by ATF, but also by some of our other law enforcement components. The FBI’s Safe Streets Task Forces, for example, focus on dismantling violent organized gangs that wreak havoc in cities and towns across the country, as well as investigating violent criminals involved in federal robberies, carjackings, murders and kidnappings. We will be adding a Safe Streets Task Force in Orlando, to further aid local law enforcement in fighting their gang problem there. This task force will work closely with the new VCIT in Orlando, in keeping with the Department's continued commitment to coordination and cooperation between all federal law enforcement agencies operating in the same geographical areas. We've had great success in doing this with the U.S. Marshals' fugitive sweeps called Operation FALCON. Through three campaigns, FALCON targeted the worst of the worst, and resulted in the arrests of more than 30,000 fugitive felons. It is a great example of what we can achieve when all the branches of law enforcement are working together as a national network, and I know Director Clark and Director Sullivan are as dedicated as I am to doing more of these joint operations in the future. Law enforcement coordination is critical to addressing violent crime and remains a keystone of the Department's anti-crime efforts. FBI Director Mueller and DEA Director Tandy have made coordination on investigations a priority as well, because they have seen how effective we can be together. To ensure that our violent crime task forces operate seamlessly and leverage the best that each agency has to offer, the Deputy Attorney General recently directed all components to utilize information-sharing and case-coordination systems, where available and effective, in their investigations. Earlier this month, he also directed all U.S. Attorneys to convene meetings with representatives from the task forces in their districts to address and resolve any coordination issues. These steps will enhance our violent crime reduction efforts and ensure that our task forces work together to make our communities safer. And as an important step in making sure that we have the tools needed to get the job done, we are sending to Congress comprehensive crime legislation. I don't want to go too far into the details, but I want to share with you a few of the important elements of this bill.
First, it will improve a number of existing criminal laws to close gaps and strengthen the penalties and tools we have already. That means extending the statute of limitations for violent crimes and establishing enhanced penalties for violent crimes committed by illegal aliens. Second, the bill would provide greater flexibility in the penalties that could be imposed on federal firearm licensees who violate the Gun Control Act. By allowing for graduated sanctions, this would permit ATF to more effectively pursue a wider range of violations, and provide greater incentives for licensees to cooperate with law enforcement. And third, the legislation would restore the binding nature of the sentencing guidelines so that the bottom of the recommended sentencing range would be a minimum for judges, not merely a suggestion. Again, there are many more important provisions in this legislation, and I look forward to working with Congress to enact provisions like these that will strengthen our hand in fighting criminals who threaten the safety and security of all Americans. It can truly be said that our efforts at fighting violent crime are all about cooperation. I know that every one of us in this room is dedicated to stopping crime. But I also know that no matter how hard we work, how many hours we put in, how far we push ourselves, no one person here can do it alone. You rely on your colleagues — the men and women sitting next to you. You rely on your federal law enforcement partners -- who are dedicated just as you are to this mission. And you rely on your state and local counterparts -- the boots on the ground in these communities. Our fight against violent crime is important to me too. And I rely on every one of you. I know that I have only 18 months left in my term as Attorney General, and that really does not feel like a lot of time to accomplish all of the goals that are important to me. So often Washington seems to run at a marathon pace, but I intend to spend the next year and a half in a sprint to the finish line. The American people deserve nothing less, and I'm counting on all of you, at ATF and in all of federal law enforcement, to join me in that. I'm grateful for all that you have done, and I'm proud to serve alongside you. When we fight together, we cannot fail. Keep up the good work. ###
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