Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks to the National Sheriffs’ Association
Monday, February 12, 2018
Thank you, Jonathan, for that kind introduction. It’s good to see you again. I also want to recognize Greg Champagne of St. Charles, Louisiana.
Before I say anything else, I have to acknowledge, with great sadness, that we lost two police officers this weekend. Officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering of Westerville, Ohio were shot to death around noontime Saturday. Between them they had nearly 40 years of law enforcement service. I want to join with President Trump in offering my condolences to their families at this difficult time.
It is an honor to be with you this morning. The National Sheriffs’ Association is one of the biggest law enforcement groups in America—with more than 20,000 members and 75 years of history.
I want to thank you for what you do. I’ve heard about how you’ve trained more than 1,000 law officers in using narcan—an overdose reversal drug. You’ve donated thousands of narcan kits across 21 different states. I’m told that you’ve already reversed hundreds of overdoses.
I’m pleased to see that my home state of Alabama is well-represented here. We have 14 Alabama sheriffs with us this morning, as well as the long time Executive Director of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, Bobby Timmons. Thank you all for keeping Alabama safe.
On behalf of President Trump, I am here to say thank you to everyone here for your service to this country.
I know that many of you have met with the President. You know that he is a strong supporter of law enforcement.
This is an administration that listens to you and that understands this community. We understand the risks you take and the tools you need to be effective.
I know that sometimes in the past, you haven’t had the support that you deserve. You’ve had politicians tie your hands with ineffective policies or fail to understand the challenges your deputies face and fail to respect the impact of their work and service.
Let me say this loud and clear: President Trump and I are proud to stand with all of you.
The most important thing that any government does is keep its citizens safe. The first civil right is the right to be safe.
Too often, politics gets in the way of that mission.
Right now, we’re trying to confirm a number of important component heads at the Department of Justice. That includes a new head of our Criminal Division, our Civil Rights Division, and our National Security Division. These are critically important components—and outstanding nominees. Our nominee to lead the National Security Division was approved unanimously in committee. But because of one senator’s concerns over unrelated political issues—like legalizing marijuana—we can’t even get a vote.
I’m Attorney General of the United States. I don’t have the authority to say that something is legal when it is illegal—even if I wanted to. I cannot and will not pretend that a duly enacted law of this country—like the federal ban on marijuana—does not exist. Marijuana is illegal in the United States—even in Colorado, California, and everywhere else in America.
We need our nominees confirmed. Safety and security are just too important.
Those of gathered here know that protecting the safety and security of the American people is the mission we share.
President Trump understands that law enforcement officers are not the problem—they’re the solution.
I know firsthand the important work that each of you do. I was a federal prosecutor for 14 years, and during that time, I was blessed to partner every day with federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to protect people’s rights. We might have been a small U.S. Attorney’s office in Mobile, Alabama, but we worked closely with our Sheriffs and took tons of drugs off our streets, dismantled domestic and international fraud schemes, and we prosecuted civil rights offenders to the fullest extent possible. There is nothing I am more proud of that noble work.
I know that each of you has that same kind of satisfaction as your serve your people.
You are the thin blue line that stands between law-abiding people and criminals – between sanctity and lawlessness. You protect our families, our communities, and secure our country from drugs and violence. The people of this country appreciate what you do. Last summer, Gallup released their annual poll, which showed that overall confidence in the law enforcement rose significantly last year. That is a testament to the work you do every day.
I’m not sure if you all saw this, but there was a survey recently that showed that more and more of our young people want to go into law enforcement. According to the survey, it used to be the number 10 dream job for kids under 12. Now it’s number three overall—and for boys it’s number one. Athletes dropped while more and more want to wear the badge.
That tells me that we’re doing something right. I have been hearing law enforcement leaders express grave concerns about recruitment, maybe we have turned the corner.
It was largely because of officers like you that crime went down in this country for 20 years. It was a long and historic crime decline, murder rates declined by one half and teen use of drugs declined by half.
But over the past two or three years, the country and some leaders lost their focus that led to progress and our work became more difficult. The result: The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent from 2014 to 2016. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder shot up by more than 20 percent. Meanwhile we have suffered the deadliest drug crisis in American history.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that violent crime and drug abuse rose at the same time. I was just reading one of our Department-funded studies that found that nearly a quarter of the increase in homicides is the result of the increase in drug-related homicides.
And that should be no surprise: drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun.
But as we all know, violent crime statistics and drug overdose rates are not numbers—we’re talking about moms, dads, daughters, spouses, friends, and neighbors.
We will not stand by and watch violence and addiction rise. Plain and simple, we will not allow the progress made by our women and men in blue over the past two decades to simply slip through our fingers. We will not cede one community, one block, or one street corner to violent thugs or poison peddlers. We will protect the poor as well as the rich.
As Attorney General, I am committed to combatting violent crime and supporting your work. I have made it one of our top priorities.
The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump sent me a simple, straightforward executive order: reduce crime in America. Not preside over ever-increasing crime rates. Reduce crime in America.
At the Department of Justice, we embrace that goal. And you and I know from experience that it can be done.
Some people don’t think it’s possible, but crime rates aren’t like the tides. Strong law enforcement and prosecutions can bring them down.
It is our goal to bring down violent crime, homicides, opioid prescriptions, and overdose deaths. These are the explicit goals we’ve established.
And over the past year, we have taken action to reach these goals. In 2017, the Department of Justice brought cases against the greatest number of violent criminals in a quarter of a century. We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade. We also arrested and charged hundreds of people suspected of contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis.
We secured the convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, and worked with our international allies to arrest or charge more than 4,000 MS-13 members.
MS-13 didn’t like that, by the way. The Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division recently testified before Congress that the MS-13 gang leaders back in El Salvador have taken notice of these efforts. They know that hundreds of their members are now behind bars. So now they’re trying to send younger and more violent gang members to the United States to replenish their depleted ranks. But they will not succeed.
That’s one more reason that we are no longer allowing so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions to nullify federal immigration law if they want to receive our law enforcement grants.
It’s not that we want to de-fund these cities and states. We want them to rethink their policies and start to cooperate with federal law enforcement. I cannot send funds to jurisdictions who won’t meet minimum standards of partnership.
I know that this issue is important to this organization, and I want to thank you for the work that you have done.
I was in Florida last week to discuss our ongoing opioid crisis, and I had the chance to meet with a number of Florida sheriffs.
In working with the National Sheriffs Association, seventeen Florida sheriffs have worked out an agreement with ICE to help them take criminal aliens out of the Sunshine State. Aliens held by these sheriffs are held under color of federal authority—and that protects these sheriffs from being sued just for doing their jobs.
I want to encourage more of these agreements across America.
By definition, removing criminal aliens from our communities makes us safer. And I want you to consider joining the very effective 287(g) program.
We are already starting to see positive signs of the Trump administration’s approach to crime. In the first six months of last year, the increase in the murder rate slowed significantly and violent crime actually went down. Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest we may see further progress.
These are major accomplishments that benefit the American people. And we could not have realized them without you—without a strong partnership between our federal team and our state and local law enforcement personnel.
Based on my experience meeting with officers like you, I believe that morale is already up among our law enforcement community. I can feel the difference. And we have good reason to be encouraged.
Any loss of life is one too many, but it is encouraging that the number of officers killed in the line of duty declined last year and reached its second lowest level in more than half a century. That’s something that we all should celebrate and be thankful for.
At the Department of Justice we appreciate the service of every single federal agent. But we are well aware that 85 percent of law enforcement is state, local, and tribal. Yours are the deputies that have the critical street-level intelligence regarding the criminal element. Federal officers have the unique capability to follow a case across state borders and even across national borders. We can reach defendants all over the world.
We want to be a force-multiplier for you. Our work is most effective when experienced state and local investigators are paired with the resources and expertise of the 15 percent that are our federal law enforcement.
That’s why we have reinstated our equitable sharing program at the Department of Justice. Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed. It weakens the criminals and the cartels. Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and makes it the material support of law enforcement. In departments across this country, funds that were once used to take lives are now being used to save lives. And there is nothing wrong with adoptive forfeitures. There can be no federal adoption if the forfeiture is not called for under federal law. In many cases, adoptive forfeitures represent great partnerships between federal and state law enforcement.
Criminals should not be permitted to profit from their crimes.
Sheriff Eavenson has been a long-time advocate for this approach, and we’re grateful for his valued advice.
Helping law enforcement do their jobs, helping the police get better, and celebrating the noble, honorable, and challenging work of our law enforcement communities will always be a top priority of President Trump and this Department of Justice. Indeed, his first executive order to us on my first day was to back the men and women in uniform.
Together we can do this. We can bring down crime and give every American peace of mind.
I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement – federal, state, local, and tribal. I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected Sheriff has been seen as the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and amenable to the people. The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.
The work that you do – that you have dedicated your lives to – is essential. I believe it. The Department of Justice believes it. And President Trump believes it.
You can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.
Updated February 12, 2018