Thanks and Dreams Farewell Speech

Jeremy Travis
Director, National Institute of Justice

APRIL 12, 2000
Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Reno, Justice Ginsburg, colleagues, friends and family:

It is simply overwhelming to stand before you this afternoon and to think back on the road we have traveled together. It is hard to believe that is was nearly six years ago when we set out on this journey. I remember vividly the swearing in ceremony in the Great Hall when Janet Reno introduced the Dream Team she had put together of Robinson, Gist, Chaiken, Bilchik, Adams and Travis. This team has had great coaches – Gorelick and Holder in the front office; Schmidt, Fisher and Marcus on the field. We have had some first rate substitutions as we welcomed Turman and Leary in the later innings. And we had star relief pitchers Brennan and Robinson.

But what has made this Dream Team so successful was not our longevity alone, rather the spirit that animated our years together. We have been inspired by a vision of the safe and just community -- a vision of a community where children are loved, not abused; where teenagers learn about life, not violence; where families resolve conflicts peacefully, and those amongst us who violate our rules are held accountable in appropriate measure. I count myself so very fortunate to have been a member of a team within the Department of Justice that has been inspired by this vision. And I thank Janet Reno for her leadership in articulating that vision to the Nation and encouraging us to believe it could become a reality.

I would like to offer special thanks to some special people today. First, I must thank my family – Susan, Aliza and Zoe. You have been my inspiration and my grounding, both reminding me why we do what we do, and reminding me that I am not who I am because of what I do. I am so lucky to have you as my life force.

Second, I wish to thank my mentors in the room. I have added to this list Laurie Robinson who for the past six years has provided me with uncommon wisdom and infectious enthusiasm. So many times on so many days I have found myself listening to the voices of my mentors and heeding the lessons you taught me during our years together. You will never know how indebted I am to you.

Next, I offer my thanks to my colleagues at the National Institute of Justice. We had some great laughs at the NIJ farewell party last week. I now realize that literally hundreds of hours of staff time and thousands of taxpayer dollars have been wasted trying to decipher my handwriting. I apologize publicly to those who have suffered. And, after surviving my involuntary acting debut in the role of Metaphor Man, I promise I will give up on the use of metaphors – at least for today. But beneath all the laughter was the recognition that together we have accomplished great things – we have advanced the cause of science in the difficult arena of crime policy. We have had difficult times, we have had exhilarating times. Through it all, we realized how blessed we are to live in a world of ideas – of ideas that matter – and ideas that matter about things that really matter, such as safety and justice. I am so fortunate to have had colleagues at NIJ who know the power of ideas.

I have particular thanks to offer as well. The directors of NIJ's three offices , David Boyd, Sally Hillsman and Ed Zedlewski have brought their considerable energy and talents to the challenge of building the new NIJ. Christy Visher, Amy Solomon and Lynn Penn have been my strongest supporters and advisors, helping me find clarity in the midst of confusion. The front office team, with Cherise Fanno and Doug Horner in the lead, is the best staff support operation one could imagine, always ready to turn on a dime while keeping the longer view in sight. The NIJ2K group – the Executive Staff who have been transformed into the custodians of NIJ's future – have been the best strategic thinkers ever in NIJ's history. I am fortunate to have been surrounded by people who shared a vision of NIJ as a powerful engine for change. I feel particularly fortunate that Julie Samuels has been named the Acting Director of NIJ. I know she will lead the Institute with wisdom and integrity.

I wish to offer my thanks to my many partners throughout government. One of the hallmarks of this era has been the willingness of people to work together. Lord knows — and Laurie knows — this has not always been easy, nor always completely voluntary. There were many times when we sat uncomfortably at an unfamiliar table in some foreign part of the Department of Justice asking ourselves why we were there, meeting with people we had never seen before. The answer was always the same: "The Attorney General will want to know whether we have coordinated with each other on this policy." And she was always right – the policy that resulted was always better because we had spoken to each other.

For a research agency such as NIJ, the coordination opportunities and obligations were always particularly important. We wanted to be at the policy table and hoped that people would listen to us. We wanted to eavesdrop on the conversations about what was happening in the world of practice so that we could make our research relevant. And, yes, I must confess, there were times when the NIJ staff and I were at the table because we wanted someone else to fund our research.

So, I pay special thanks to our many partners who were willing to take risks with research, and special tribute to Janet Reno for insisting that research inform policy. At the beginning, these were not natural conversations and our perspective was not always welcome. After nearly six years of working together, however, we can honestly say that we have created an insatiable demand for research. The idea that major programs should be evaluated, that demonstration projects should have research partners and should test research hypotheses, that enforcement initiatives should be held accountable for their impact, and that even the work of the furthest removed detective interviewing an eyewitness to a crime should do his or her job in a way that reflects the best social science research -- these are no longer foreign ideas. We have come so far.

Now is not the time to be complacent. We have so much work to do to make our communities safe and just. We are just beginning to see the contribution that research can make to achieving this vision. Just imagine that every community in America is a COMPASS site, and that every community has the data at its fingertips to track levels of crime, fear, neighborhood well-being and perceptions of justice in real time to support and guide real time interventions. Imagine that this community's health, education and social service agencies implement programs of known effectiveness that prevent crime. Imagine that this community can identify the abused and neglected child at first occurrence and surrounds that child with protection through to adulthood. Imagine that every young person who engages in delinquent behavior is taken aside and given assistance in navigating his way toward responsible citizenship. Imagine that every violation of the law becomes an opportunity to help victims rebuild their lives, offenders repay their debts, and communities strengthen their social bonds. Imagine that every person who works for an agency of justice has the technological tools and the proper training to bring both science and wisdom to their work.

Impossible, we might think.

Last month, I went with Aliza to the NASA Space Center in Maryland. It is named after Dr. Robert H. Goddard. Goddard has special meaning to me. As you may know, he is the father of modern space exploration, having successfully tested the first liquid fuel rocket in 1926. What you may not know is that his first rocket was fired in a field in Auburn, Massachusetts, the next town over from the town where I grew up. There were not many big time heroes in that part of the country, so we all grew up knowing that Goddard was a big deal and that something important in scientific history had happened in our neighborhood. Auburn never was quite as famous as Kitty Hawk, but we knew we had a place in the history books.

I learned something new about Goddard during my visit to the NASA museum. I learned that he was a federal grantee. He received a $5,000 federal grant from the Smithsonian to develop his theories of rocket propulsion. When he filed his final report with the Smithsonian – as far as I know, he did not need a no cost extension – Goddard went into great detail about the research he had conducted. But then, at the end of his report, he set forth the possibility that, if we followed the scientific principles he had discovered, a rocket could someday reach the moon. Maybe this slipped through their peer review process, but he took the risk of projecting the implications of his scientific findings. The press picked up on this fantastic idea that man could go to the moon and Goddard was soundly ridiculed. Yet, in scientific circles, his work received much favorable notice, particularly in Europe. Fortunately, his funding agency was influenced by the science and not by the ridicule and he received another grant from the Smithsonian -- this time for $10,000 -- to continue his work. And the rest is history – in 1969, about fifty years after Goddard filed that first final report, man set foot on the moon.

At the NASA museum, they have inscribed the following words of Dr. Goddard that seem appropriate today: "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow." As we look to the future, and reflect on our time together, we should not dwell on what is impossible in our quest for safe and just communities. Rather, we should dream about what is possible ... and hope for what is possible ... so that it will become a reality tomorrow. I am so grateful to have spent these years surrounded by dreamers, by people who believe so strongly that we can turn hope into reality. I commend you for all you have done and eagerly await all you have yet to do .

Date Created: December 3, 2007