Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA) Winter Conference

1 year ago

 Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. Thank you for that warm welcome, Peter. It’s nice to be among friends.

On behalf of all of us at the Justice Department, I want to thank you for your leadership, your partnership and your friendship during your time as President of the Major County Sheriffs of America.

We look forward to our continuing work together, alongside your incoming President, Sheriff LemmaCongratulations to both of you.

As sheriffs representing over 130 million Americans, you know that when there is a crisis – large or small – people look to you and your deputies for help. And every day, you respond. You show up. You put your lives on the line.

And you do this not for public recognition, but because you are true public servants.

I know from my conversations with Sheriff Koutoujian, and from other law enforcement partners, that you are feeling the strain of the past several years.

Your jobs are difficult and dangerous. And have been made even harder by the pandemic.

You are on the frontlines of combatting violent crime. You are being asked by our society not only to keep our communities safe, but also to step in to address a wide array of other social problems. You are often the first people to respond to individuals dealing with a mental health crisis. You are on the front lines of the fight against addiction and the overdose epidemic. And you do all of this at great risk to yourselves.

We know that in 2021, a record number of law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. So far this year, 35 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty.

I know that some of you in this room have recently lost friends, colleagues and fellow law enforcement officers. We join you in remembering them for their service and their courage. And we will honor them by our work together to keep our communities safe.

I want you to know that at the Justice Department, we recognize how much is being asked of you every single day. We will do everything within our power to help keep you – and all of our law enforcement partners – safe.

Like all of us in law enforcement, my attention is focused on the increased incidence of violent crime that many of our communities are grappling with.

Last May, the Justice Department implemented an anti-violent crime strategy aimed at mobilizing our federal prosecutors, agents, investigators, criminal justice experts and grant managers to work with their state and local partners to disrupt and prosecute violent crime.

Our strategy recognizes that the Department is most effective when we target enforcement efforts and priorities, build community trust and earn legitimacy and invest in prevention and intervention programs.

You – and members of law enforcement across the country – are indispensable partners in everything we do to keep our communities safe.

That is why, last May, we directed each United States Attorney’s Office to work with its state and local partners to address the violent crime problems specific to those communities.

We strengthened our cornerstone initiative to reduce violent crime at the community level – Project Safe Neighborhoods.

We launched five cross-jurisdictional strike forces to disrupt illegal firearms trafficking in key corridors across the country.

We proposed a new rule to curb the proliferation of ghost guns. We published model gun safety legislation for states. We established a new policy to hold gun dealers accountable for willful violations of the law.

We awarded more than $139 million through the COPS Hiring Program, which provided funding to 183 law enforcement agencies nationwide to hire more than 1,000 additional fulltime officers.

The ATF, DEA, FBI and U.S. Marshals Service partnered with state and local law enforcement agencies to embed agents in homicide units, trace crime guns, confiscate illegal firearms, disrupt violent drug trafficking, pursue fugitives and provide other support where needed.

This year, the Justice Department is doubling down on the fight to protect our communities from violent crime, and from the gun violence that often drives it.

Last week, I issued a memo updating the Department’s anti-violent crime strategy.

Each of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will continue to prioritize combating violent crime and gun trafficking offenses in their districts, and will build on the district-specific anti-violent crime reduction strategies developed last year.

They will prioritize prosecutorial resources to implement those strategies. And in the next 30 days, they will meet with their state and local partners to identify new or additional enforcement efforts.

The Department will also launch a national ghost gun enforcement initiative.

We will equip our investigators and prosecutors with the tools and expertise they need to prosecute ghost gun cases.

Each U.S. Attorney’s Office and each ATF Field Division will designate ghost gun coordinators to work with our law enforcement partners to advance this work.

The Department will also build on its efforts to crack down on illegal gun trafficking. We will increase resources to the gun trafficking strike forces.

We will prioritize federal prosecution of those who illegally sell or transfer guns to criminals. And we will spare no effort to identify and hold accountable the repeat offenders who are major drivers of violent crime.

The President’s budget request for FY 22 includes $9.4 billion for the Department’s efforts to disrupt violent crime.

The budget request prioritizes resources for local law enforcement partners, including through Project Safe Neighborhoods and a total of more than $1 billion in grants. That includes a request to more than double the funding for the COPS Hiring Program – grants that go directly to our law enforcement partners.

All of us in this room know that essential to public safety is building public trust. We all share a commitment to promoting a strong relationship between our officers and our communities.

That is why the Department will continue to provide the financial support and technical assistance needed to implement policies and trainings that promote accountability and best policing practices.

As we work to prevent, disrupt and prosecute violent crime, the Justice Department will use every available tool to give our law enforcement partners the resources and support you need to do your jobs safely and effectively.

The Department is continuing its efforts to ease some of the burden placed on our law enforcement partners when they respond to individuals in crisis.

We are supporting efforts to build partnerships between law enforcement and behavioral health systems.

We are providing grants to help communities implement new responses to 911 calls, including embedding clinicians in 911 call centers and supporting co-responder models.

We stood up 14 Law Enforcement Mental Health Learning Sites, to help communities improve outcomes when law enforcement encounters people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

We created a new program called “Connect and Protect,” to build and implement collaboration between law enforcement and mental health providers.

In 2021, we distributed nearly $18.3 million through that program, which supports crisis intervention teams and public safety partnerships with social service and community providers.

Last fall, the Department hosted a national conference on coordinating law enforcement and behavioral health approaches to crisis response.

We will continue to look for opportunities to develop best practices that improve outcomes for individuals in crisis and ease the strain being placed on officers.

As I said at the beginning of these remarks, I know full well the difficulties you face and the pressure you are under every day.

To support the mental health and wellness of officers, the Department awarded over $7 million last year to city, county and state governments across the country to support officers with training, peer support, family resources, suicide prevention and other practices.

We will continue to use all available resources to help improve access to and delivery of these kinds of support services for members of law enforcement.

The Justice Department is grateful to count you as our partners in the mission to serve our communities and keep our country safe.

We know that a strong partnership like this one does not happen automatically.

It takes humility, honesty and transparency. It takes a willingness to listen and to be collaborative. It takes hard work.

I know that shortly, you will be honoring one of our leaders at the Justice Department who embodies each of these qualities.

I have now worked alongside Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta for close to 11 months.

One of my first acts as Attorney General was to ask her to conduct a review of how the Department could further ensure that the monitors who are used in the Department’s pattern-or-practice settlements are independent, highly qualified and free of conflicts of interest.

At Vanita’s direction, the Department held over 50 listening sessions, including with the Major County Sheriffs. At the conclusion of her review, she recommended, and I accepted, a set of 19 actions that the Department is now implementing.

In that process, and in all of the work that she does, Associate Attorney General Gupta’s work is thoughtful, prioritizes respectful dialogue, and reflects her commitment to sustaining strong relationships with all of our law enforcement partners.

Thank you for recognizing one of the Justice Department’s finest leaders, for whose service we are extraordinarily grateful.

I appreciate the opportunity to join you all today. And I look forward to our continuing work together in the days to come.

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