WASHINGTON, D.C. – September 22, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Thank you, Roy [Austin], for that kind introduction – and for the extraordinary work that you and so many of your colleagues at the White House do to lift up our communities, to inspire our young people and to mobilize change agents like those we’re here to honor today. It’s a pleasure – and an immense privilege – to join so many passionate advocates, dedicated public servants and devoted law enforcement officers as we recognize 14 truly remarkable civic leaders: our Champions of Change.
These outstanding individuals exemplify the selfless men and women across the United States who are asking what they can do to improve the lives of others – and then doing it. They are working to ensure that our youth have the chance to fulfill their potential; that cycles of poverty, criminality and incarceration are dismantled; and that those grappling with homelessness, violence and addiction obtain a second chance at a better life. And by devoting their precious time and wide-ranging talents to the causes they champion, they are helping to mend the fabric of trust, respect and common purpose that all communities need to thrive. They exemplify what we have come to know: that change that can galvanize a nation often begins with a single human connection.
Actions like theirs are needed now more than ever. Over the course of the last year, we have seen all too frequently how relationships between communities and law enforcement can grow strained; how trust can be broken or lost; and how simmering tensions can erupt into unrest. The consequences are real – for sincere public safety officers, the guardians, who seek to ensure that all are sheltered under their umbrella of protection and for residents, particularly residents of color, who feel a sense of disconnection and despair that is all too familiar from a long and painful history of discrimination – and who often feel like they’re not being heard; like they’re not being believed; and like they’re not being protected. This is an intensely challenging issue and I could not be more proud of these Champions of Change and those like them throughout the nation, who believe that – despite the magnitude of the challenges we face – all of us can play a part in working together to ensure that every American is treated with fairness, with dignity and with respect; to maintain safe neighborhoods and supportive environments; and to establish a sense of community – of common aims and common efforts – in cities and towns across America. We are here today to honor those who exemplify nothing less than the essentially American belief that no matter the odds or the problem, change is possible and that it can begin with them.
The Department of Justice is committed to doing our part to help. Last September, we launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a comprehensive effort to modernize training; develop evidence-based strategies; and advance research that will bolster law enforcement credibility, enhance procedural justice, reduce implicit bias and drive racial reconciliation. Our Civil Rights Division continues to work with police departments around the country to ensure constitutional policing in their jurisdictions. And our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is leading and supporting a variety of community-centered efforts to reduce youth and gang violence.
Of course, real change is spearheaded by those who are grappling with real problems every day. Our goal is to also tap into the innovative programs and exciting ideas that are emerging from communities across the country. That is why I’ve convened a series of community policing roundtables that have allowed me to see the extraordinary work that’s underway in diverse neighborhoods from coast to coast. In Birmingham, Alabama, I learned about the Citizen’s Police Academy, which allows local young people to form positive relationships with law enforcement officers and to understand the difficult jobs they do every day. In Cincinnati, Ohio, I observed an innovative mentoring program that puts police in the classroom as tutors, helping the children they work with see them as helpers, friends and peacemakers. In East Haven, Connecticut, I saw community leaders and public officials speak with pride about the strides they had made together just three years after a Justice Department investigation uncovered discriminatory tactics and the use of excessive force. And in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I saw a police department newly committed to operating with accountability and to pursuing excellence. Later this week, I will complete the first phase of my tour with roundtables in Seattle, Washington and Richmond, California and I am excited to keep these important conversations going as more communities undertake the difficult but necessary work of growing more cohesive, more unified and more empowered. all of these cities have come back from the brink of profoundly challenged police community relationships to build a working relationship that recognizes that our communities are large enough to encompass those who protect them, that our guardians are strengthened when they truly know their charges and their needs and that all voices must be at the table to create and sustain meaningful change.
All of us at the Justice Department strongly support and encourage that work and those goals. That’s why I’m proud to announce today that the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – more commonly known as the COPS Office – is providing more than $107 million in new grants to support the hiring and retention of approximately 870 officers at roughly 200 agencies and municipalities throughout the United States. These awards will not only keep more officers on the beat – they will address specific issue areas like violent crime, school safety, homeland security and that which underlies it all: community trust. They will help local agencies deliver on the recommendations for community policing developed by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. And they will extend the remarkable record of support, leadership and results that the COPS Office has earned over the last two decades.
I am also pleased to give you a major update on the Body-Worn Camera Pilot Partnership Program that we kicked off in May. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance designed the program to assist local jurisdictions that are interested in exploring and expanding the use of body-worn cameras in order to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility. Initial expectations were that we would be able to support approximately 50 agencies. But today, I am happy to report that we intend to fund 73 local and tribal agencies across the country with more than $19.3 million for their body-worn camera programs. An additional $2 million will go toward training and technical assistance for agencies looking to develop or expand their programs. And another $1.9 million will support research in three police departments – Miami, Milwaukee and Phoenix – on the impact of body-worn cameras on a range of outcomes, including community relations. That kind of evaluation is crucial as we continue to weigh the advantages of more widespread use of cameras in policing.
A third and final piece of news comes from our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which is launching a new initiative to bring young people together with the police officers in their communities. OJJDP is awarding $500,000 to a joint effort of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice to convene a youth and law enforcement roundtable and to develop an institute for disseminating best practices and sharing new approaches on issues of juvenile justice. Their unique partnership will go a long way toward fostering strong, collaborative relationships among young people, their families and those charged with their protection. And it unites a wealth of experience and expertise that will be an asset to law enforcement agencies developing strategic plans for their long-term improvement.
Each of these new efforts gives me hope that we can help to address these vital and complicated issues through sustained attention, honest conversation and thoughtful public policy. Each of the leaders here this afternoon gives me confidence that our commitment will yield progress. And each of the Champions we’re here to celebrate reminds me that our ultimate success depends on the goodwill, imagination and determination of motivated men, women and children across this country. I want to thank each of you for your exceptional work. I want to applaud each of you for your inspiring example. And I want you to know that I am honored to stand beside you and proud to count you as partners in our common pursuit of equality, opportunity and justice for all.
And now, I invite everyone to join me in saluting our Champions of Change, whom it’s my privilege to introduce at this time:
- Sergeant Alex Bielawski from Grand Prairie, Texas – a 30-year veteran of the Grand Prairie Police Department and founder of a youth boxing program that brings together police officers, young athletes, parents and school officials.
- Indeya Smith from Grand Prairie, Texas – a student at Tarrant County Community College, an intern with the Grand Prairie Police Department and a nationally ranked boxer who has trained with the Grand Prairie Police Youth Boxing Program.
- Anthony Davis from Bonner Springs, Kansas – a School Resource Officer for the Bonner Springs/Edwardsville School District and a criminal justice teacher at Bonner Springs High School.
- Blake McMahan from Bonner Springs, Kansas – the President of the Criminal Justice Club at Bonner Springs High School and a volunteer for the Bonner Springs Police Department.
- Ric DeLand from Portland, Oregon – a 25-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau and the leader of an innovative, relationship-based foot patrol pilot project that reduced crime by 25 percent and strengthened community cooperation.
- Celia Luce from Portland, Oregon – a Peer Mentor with Outside In, an organization helping to connect homeless youth with the resources and the support they need.
- Captain Jacques Gilbert from Apex, North Carolina – a 25-year veteran of the Apex Police Department for over 25 years who worked with young people to build a public skate park for local youth.
- Tracy Stallworth from Apex, North Carolina – an aspiring professional skate boarder who worked with Captain Gilbert to make the Rodgers Family Skate Plaza a reality.
- Hiram Otero from Hartford, Connecticut – a Faith Based Initiative Community Service Officer for the South District of Hartford and organizer of the Charter Oak Cultural Center’s Good Vibrations youth mentoring program.
- Kayke Lopes from Hartford, Connecticut – a seventh-grader at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy and a participant in the Good Vibrations program.
- Laurie Reyes from Montgomery County, Maryland – a 17-year veteran of the Montgomery County Police Department and founder of the Department’s Autism and Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities Outreach Program.
- Jake Edwards from Germantown, Maryland – a seventh-grader at Kennedy Krieger School and an advocate for enhanced understanding between law enforcement and those with autism.
- Bill Singleton from Milwaukee, Wisconsin – an officer in the Milwaukee Police Department’s Office of Community Outreach & Education and a National Advisor for the Center for Court Innovation’s Police-Youth Dialogue Project.
- And finally, Erica Lofton from Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a 14-year-old violence-prevention advocate and founder of Girls in Action, Inc., an organization that promotes leadership among young girls.
Ladies and gentlemen – our Champions of Change.