Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Taking the Call Conference

1 year ago

Remarks as Delivered

Hello, and welcome to the Taking the Call national conference. It is a pleasure to be part of this new event focused on a crucial topic. I want to thank our Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the University of Cincinnati for organizing this event.

This convening addresses some of the most pressing issues we face as a country. Our society is turning to law enforcement to address a wide array of social problems. Too often, police officers are the first ones called when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. In many jurisdictions, these calls seem to increase every year – and they often lead to challenging interactions. They take longer to resolve and can create unnecessary physical confrontations. 

Even after situations are controlled, responding officers are limited in where they can transport individuals experiencing a crisis. These realities raise difficult and urgent questions. When a call is placed to 9-1-1, how can we improve the response? How do those responses protect public safety, ensure public health and build trust between communities and law enforcement? How can our public safety and health systems work in concert to support individuals in crisis?  

I am glad that we have gathered to address these challenging questions. I am also proud that the Justice Department is supporting efforts to build partnerships between law enforcement and behavioral health systems.

Throughout our Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, the department provides grants to help communities implement new responses to 9-1-1 calls. This includes embedding clinicians in 9-1-1 call centers, supporting co-responder models and much more.

This year, the Bureau of Justice Assistance released a new program called “Connect and Protect.” This behavioral health response program aims to build and implement collaboration between law enforcement and mental health providers. Among other things, this program supports crisis intervention teams and public safety partnerships with social service and community providers.

The Justice Department also published a Police Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit and stood up 14 Law Enforcement Mental Health Learning Sites. The toolkit helps communities implement law enforcement and behavioral health best practices. The learning sites help communities improve outcomes when law enforcement encounters people with mental health and substance abuse needs. This includes promoting strategies from 24/7 crisis stabilization units in urban settings, to rapid mobile crisis response units in rural communities. 

In addition, the Justice Department will offer upcoming training programs to enhance police officers’ ability to engage with people with behavioral health issues or developmental disabilities.

I have been Attorney General for just over half a year.  During that time, I have met with a diverse group of stakeholders and experts. It is clear to me that there is wide agreement on the need to coordinate law enforcement and behavioral health approaches to crisis response.

At the Justice Department, we know that our law enforcement partners share this view. We are grateful for their support. We are also thankful for the support and attention of our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and so many others who are deeply committed to this work.

Sharing best practices across agencies, areas of expertise and all levels of government will help everyone improve responses to crisis situations. That is the spirit driving this important convening. We hope that this gathering will help you learn about crisis system innovations that you can take back to your communities. 

Together, we can work toward more effectively combining health and safety systems so that everyone involved in a crisis situation experiences better outcomes. Thank you for joining us in this effort.

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