Remarks By Secretary Of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson: “To Protect And Serve The Public”

Release Date:
April 10, 2015

Beijing, China
The People’s Public Security University
(As delivered)

Good morning. It is an honor for me to speak here.

This is my first trip to the People’s Republic of China. I am here to visit with leaders of your government to discuss a number of subjects that are important to both our countries. I am pleased with the warm reception I have received in China, and I believe there are a number of subjects on which we can find common ground, and on which our two great countries can work together. We must do this, to build a better and safer world.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you. I enjoy every chance I have to talk to students.  Part of me wants to be a teacher.

I am told this institution is the best police academy in the People’s Republic of China.  Congratulations on being accepted to this prestigious academy, and for pursuing a career as a law enforcement officer.

Throughout my career, I have spent a lot of time working with law enforcement officers. As a young prosecutor twenty five years ago, I was eager to see first-hand day-to-day police work – sometimes too eager. I went with the police to surveillance locations. I wanted to be at the police station for the questioning of the suspect. I have tremendous respect for the police officer who is prepared to risk his or her life for the public.

In the United States, our version of a “Minister” is a “Secretary.” I am the Secretary of Homeland Security. I was appointed to my position by President Obama in 2013.

The Department of Homeland Security is the third largest department of the United States government.  It has about 225,000 personnel and 22 components.  Our responsibilities include counterterrorism, border security, port security, aviation security, maritime security, cybersecurity, the administration and enforcement of our immigration laws, the detection of nuclear, chemical and biological threats to our homeland, the protection of our critical infrastructure, the protection of our national leaders, and the response to natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

The Department of Homeland Security includes within it these government agencies: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And, we are also responsible for training our federal law enforcement officers, through our Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

We have many missions. But, it all falls within our broader, overarching mission — the protection of the homeland.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the largest law enforcement agency of our federal government. It includes 21,000 Border Patrol agents, and over 20,000 customs officials who are law enforcement officers. The Department of Homeland Security also includes Homeland Security Investigations, which is a group of 6,500 law enforcement officers who investigate customs law violations, counterfeiting and smuggling. The 3,300 agents of the Secret Service do not just protect the President and others; they are also law enforcement officers who investigate financial crimes and cybercrimes.

The Department of Homeland Security is part of the federal government of the United States. As you probably know, there are essentially three levels of government in the United States: the federal government, the state governments, and the local governments that are typically cities, towns, and counties.

A large part of what we do in my Department is to interact with state and local governments.  Each year we provide grants of money to states and larger urban areas to help them in their own homeland security missions. Just last week, I was at the headquarters of the New York City Police Department to announce the amount of money we were providing to the City and State of New York for this year. Part of the Department’s mission is to also share information with state and local governments about the latest terrorist threats we see.

Given how the global terrorist threat is evolving, the Department of Homeland Security’s relationship with state and local law enforcement is becoming more and more important. Today, the global terrorist threat is more decentralized and complex. In the West, terrorist organizations now publicly call upon independent actors to commit small-scale attacks in the very places where they live, without ever training at an overseas terrorist camp or accepting an order directly from the leader of a terrorist organization. These independent actors — which we call “lone wolves” — can strike in their home countries, with little or no notice. This makes the role of the local police — the first responder in a city or town — even more important.

Given how the global terrorist threat is evolving, it has also become more important that the government build trust in the particular communities in which a young man or woman may be inspired to turn to terrorism.

We now view this as a vital and indispensable part of our homeland security mission. That is why I personally participate in these meetings. And when I visit a community, I bring with me officials of our Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the local law enforcement in the community. This is an exercise in building trust — often with people who, given their own experiences with government, view us with great suspicion.

The reality is that effective homeland security must be more than the basic exertion of power and authority by the state; it is also an exercise by the state in building trust and legitimacy in the communities we serve. The power to surveil, interrogate, arrest, detain, prosecute, and convict must be accompanied by the ability to gain the cooperation and approval of the community in our efforts. Public participation in our homeland security efforts is vital. Where relationships with the community are strong, we succeed. Where relationships with the community are fraught with tension and suspension, our job is much harder.

This is true of law enforcement in general.

The best and most enduring examples of law enforcement include a police force that relates well to a community, is trusted by the community, and reflects the community. The police officer is viewed as a friend, not the enemy. This also includes a criminal justice system perceived as humane and fair.

This model of law enforcement has the added advantage of engendering the support and cooperation of the international community in the country’s own efforts to combat terrorism and transnational crime.

The failures in law enforcement have common attributes too—the police do not reflect the community they serve; the police are seen as an occupying force, to be resented and viewed with suspicion; the criminal justice system is perceived as secretive, harsh, unfair, and repressive of certain people simply because of their race, religion or nationality. The very community we most need to help us turns inward, and fails to warn law enforcement of trouble brewing from within.  Instances of excessive force and police brutality become flash points; the community’s resentment boils over to anger and demonstrations, people feel justified in directing hostility toward the state and its officers. Peace and stability are lost.

I know these things as a public servant, as a student of history, and as the descendant of people who were once oppressed by their own government because of the color of their skin. These are lessons we have learned in my country, and we are still working to improve.

In the United States, we are proud that our police forces reflect the diversity and immigrant heritage of our country.

There are notable American police officers of Chinese ancestry. This includes Heather Fong, the former police chief of the city of San Francisco, California. She was the first Asian American woman to be the police chief of a major city in the United States. I am proud that Heather Fong now works for me as an Assistant Secretary.

The police in our country also include Chinese Americans who have died in the line of duty.

In December, two police officers were killed by a gunman as they sat in their car on a street corner in New York City. The gunman approached the car by surprise, and the officers never had a chance to defend themselves – a police officer’s worst nightmare. A day after the murders, I personally traveled to that street corner in New York and left flowers to pay tribute to these officers. The pain of their families and colleagues was felt by me and millions of others. Their deaths drew nationwide attention, and thousands of police officers from around the country attended their funerals.

One of the two officers killed was Wenjian Liu, a Chinese American, and the Department of Homeland Security facilitated and expedited the travel of Officer Liu’s family from China to attend his funeral.

Then there is retired New York City police officer Roger Parrino. Roger is not of Chinese ancestry, but he is one of my heroes.

I don’t know whether there is a Chinese word for it, but in our country the most popular phrase to describe the police are “the cops.” Even the cops call themselves “the cops.”

By American standards, Roger is a cop’s cop. I first met Roger 26 years ago when I was a prosecutor, and he and I worked illegal narcotics cases together. Years later Roger was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Mayor of New York, for his acts of heroism in response to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

A year after that, Roger was the lead detective to re-investigate a famous case in New York City known as the “Central Park Jogger Case.” The Central Park Jogger Case is itself worthy of a lecture at this Academy.

In 1989 a young woman jogging in the park at night was raped and savagely beaten. She was found unconscious several hours later and was in a coma for 12 days. She had no memory of the incident, and could not identify who attacked her. Many teenage men were questioned about the attack.  Several of them gave incriminating statements. Ultimately five were charged with assaulting the woman. Based in large part on their own statements, the five were convicted after a trial, and served long jail sentences.

Years later, another man confessed to the crime. The case was re-opened in 2002. Detective Parrino was the senior investigator who worked with the local prosecutor’s office on the new investigation. As a result of this re-investigation, the convictions against the five were vacated.

The case is illustrative of a criminal justice system willing to re-examine itself, and confess error when circumstances warrant. The case also reminds us that the principal goal of a criminal justice system, including the police and prosecutor, should be just that – criminal justice, not criminal convictions.

Detective Parrino retired after more than 21 years in the New York City Police Department, and 9 years in the Marine Corps Reserves before that, and spent the next several years teaching law enforcement tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am pleased that Detective Parrino now also works for me as Counselor to the Secretary. He is sitting right there.

Thirty-three years after graduating from the New York City Police Academy, Detective Parrino will tell you in one sentence what I have tried to convey throughout this speech: that the basic job of a police officer is to protect and serve the public, and it is from the public that your authority, your credibility and your success as a police officer arises.

Thank you for listening to me. I salute you and wish you success.