Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Recovery Act Tribal Uniform Crime Reporting Training
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Good morning. Thank you, Gena.
Your work to ensure that Native American issues get the attention they need and deserve in the Office of Justice Programs and throughout the Justice Department certainly has not gone unnoticed. Thank you for sharing your knowledge - and your passion - with us all.
I'd also like to thank the Office of Justice Program's Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS, for all their work putting this training event together. BJS worked with the Federal Coordination Working Group, including members from the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to develop this training.
Specifically, I'd like to acknowledge the efforts of BJS's Steven Perry. I have the pleasure of serving on OJP's tribal working group with Steven, and I can tell you that he is deeply committed to tribal issues. Steven worked so hard to make sure you leave here with practical tools and applicable knowledge. He is a prime example of our ongoing efforts to ensure that we always serve as a resource for the field.
Finally, I'd like to echo my colleagues and thank all of you for traveling from all over the country to join us here today. We know that you are very busy people with a lot of responsibilities, so we appreciate you making this training a priority. It is certainly a priority for us.
Last summer, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that $1 million in Recovery Act funds were being directed to improve the collection of tribal crime and justice data, the department provided a pretty strong demonstration of how seriously we take this issue.
The mission of OJP is to increase public safety. That's not just public safety in New York City or here in Washington, D.C. That's not just public safety in Texas, or California, or Florida. We are committed to increasing public safety everywhere, and that includes Indian Country. We cannot form a complete picture of the public safety issues we face - or create a plan for addressing them - without information from all of you.
Submitting tribal crime statistics to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting, or UCR, program is not an administrative requirement with no real-world application. This is information that we can - and do - use. This information works in two important ways.
First, and I think you all know how important this is, submitting UCR data will help more of your jurisdictions become eligible for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, known as JAG.
JAG funds support law enforcement, prosecution, court, prevention, education, corrections, drug treatment, and crime victim programs. In Fiscal Year 2009, our Bureau of Justice Assistance, or BJA, awarded almost $2.5 billion in Byrne JAG funding, between regular-year funds and Recovery Act funds. During this training, you'll get an overview of the JAG program and what it means for tribes from BJA and BJS staff. I'd like to give you just a little preview.
JAG funds are one of the Justice Department's primary vehicles for impacting public safety in communities across the country. By providing grant funds, and carefully monitoring those funds, we are supporting innovations and best practices on the local level.
We know that JAG money is vital to local jurisdictions, but we work hard to provide much more than just money. BJA provides leadership and solutions that help jurisdictions achieve their goals using JAG funds. This initiative will help you make the most of all that BJA has to offer.
You are not eligible to receive JAG funds unless you meet UCR data requirements. That's a pretty clear incentive, but there is an even better reason for this initiative.
Crime data. The UCR program has provided uniform crime statistics since 1930, and today includes data from 17,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. Few tribes are included in that number. While many report data to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that information is aggregated before being submitted - meaning that none of the individual tribes are recognized as independent governmental units. Our national information on crime essentially has an enormous blind spot - or spots - that cover most of Indian Country.
While we have some information, it is not complete, and it certainly isn't detailed. If we don't know what is happening, how can we plan for it or address it in any meaningful way?
As a former Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, D.C., and Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts, I spent years evaluating and building cases. I can tell you that reliable data is essential to any good case. In fact, no matter how brilliant your arguments may be, or how charismatic your courtroom persona is, you've got nothing if you don't have data. The complexity of this data will vary widely from case to case, but the basic foundation is always there. Every good case is based on verifiable facts.
And this effort to gather the facts is based on plain, common sense. By systematically collecting and reporting law enforcement data, tribal communities will better understand criminal activities in their lands. Simultaneously, the same data can be used by federal agencies to identify under-reported statistics and provide training and technical assistance. As the picture of crime in tribal areas becomes more complete, and the blind spots diminish, we will all know exactly what we are facing and how best to deal with it.
UCR data helps law enforcement professionals at the national, state, and local levels better understand serious crimes. Murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, and arson are all considered Part I, or significant, offenses under the UCR. These crimes disrupt lives and destroy communities. Victims lose their property, their dignity, their safety, and even, most tragically, their lives.
Beyond these offenses, information is also collected about other, often serious crimes like driving under the influence and simple assault - crimes that can easily become an epidemic in some communities.
This is information we can't afford not to know. UCR data provides a snapshot of crime and victimization that is essential to our ongoing efforts to evaluate criminal justice programs and support and expand those that are shown to work.
A recommitment to science, to research, and to using data is one of the top priorities of this administration, and one of the legacies that we hope becomes essential to how the criminal justice system in this country works. We have to collect data, analyze it, review it, apply it, and then examine the results. The process of building evidence-based programs cannot begin without complete data. It cannot begin without you.
I also want to emphasize the importance of good information. The first step is collecting the data, but we also need to make sure that it is useful and useable. On Thursday, you'll get the opportunity to go through several interactive scenarios to understand how to capture details about the crimes you report. These details make the data you provide more useful, which ultimately makes it more valuable to the field as a whole. Enhancing data utility is one of the primary reasons for this training and is the focus of all our training and technical assistance efforts.
So, please, use this opportunity to ask questions and present your own unique scenarios. Your instructors are experts, and they welcome your questions.
Beyond interacting with instructors, I'd also encourage you to chat with your peers about the challenges you are facing. They understand, and they may even have an original approach that you can use. The opportunities you will have to network in the next few days are like a priceless bonus to this training experience. So don't be shy; talk to your neighbors.
Your presence here is clear evidence that you share our goal to ensure that there are no blind spots in crime data. We know that resources, both financial and manpower, are scarce in your communities. So, let me end today by encouraging you to continue to dedicate resources to support this effort, and let me simultaneously promise that you will continue to have the support of the Justice Department.
This is only the initial phase of a multi-stage training and technical assistance strategy. In fact, this training will end with registration for the National Incident-Based Reporting System training in September. I look forward to seeing you all then.
I hope you have a rewarding couple of days here in Washington, D.C., and we all hope that the knowledge you take home will serve you - and your communities - well.
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