Building Rule of Law Overseas

Op-Ed
William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Atlanta Journal Constitution
June 3, 2015


It is an unusual year when I do not come to Atlanta to visit family and friends. But this week, for the first time, I am here to conduct a diplomatic mission as U.S. assistant secretary of state for drugs and law enforcement. One might ask why.

The answer is that drugs, law enforcement and rule of law are not just issues managed between national governments; their impact reaches every house, street and community in the country. When our programs or operations disrupt a criminal trafficking organization overseas, then drugs, firearms or slave labor do not reach the United States.

When police in Central America decommission a criminal gang, they dry up the personnel and support pipeline to counterpart gangs in Atlanta. When justice systems are transparent and honest in their home countries, fewer people join the tide of undocumented migrants fleeing chaos, violence and poverty to the U.S.

We have learned state and local law enforcement and criminal justice institutions are perfect partners for building rule of law overseas. The federal government’s public defender’s office does not typically defend against crimes like domestic abuse. Atlanta’s does, and they are one of the best in the nation. I am here in town to sign a first-of-its-kind agreement with the Atlanta Public Defenders’ Office, to draw upon their skills and experience in training defenders overseas.

Federal law enforcement is not responsible for crowd control, domestic violence or traffic management. The Atlanta Police Department is, and I will deepen our agreement with the APD on my visit. The State Department has more than 80 of these state and local partnerships throughout the country; three are with Georgia institutions.

Everyone wins with these partnerships: foreign governments can access Atlanta’s skill sets and experience; Atlanta develops operational relationships with key foreign institutions that affect its own neighborhoods, and we all get a safer America.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced a new initiative to build security, good governance and prosperity in Central America.

While controls at our own border must be strengthened, this new initiative addresses the root causes that push people to risk their lives and families on a dangerous trip north.

I trust the Atlanta Public Defender’s Office will bring its expertise to defenders in Central America. I expect Atlanta police will continue to train Central American police on how to deal with hate crimes.

Atlanta should be proud of the overseas work of its criminal justice institutions. They are building stronger ruleof-law institutions in foreign countries. They are also combating organized crime and illicit migration, before they reach the streets of Atlanta.