Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta speaks at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) Winter 2022 CEO Symposium | Takeover bid


Notes as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Rob, for that kind introduction and for your leadership on the COPS office. I also want to express my sincere thanks to everyone at NOBLE, including Chairman Thomas and Executive Director Dwayne Crawford, for inviting me and for your continued leadership and support.

As Rob mentioned, NOBLE has been a long and valued partner of the Department of Justice – and we greatly value this partnership and all that NOBLE does to advance policing and fairness in our country. NOBLE has never shied away from the toughest policing and civil rights issues, and your moral leadership and practical thinking has driven the much-needed national conversation about community policing and building community trust.

I am delighted to join you all here today, as well as my colleagues in the department, including our new Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) – Karhlton Moore. We are very happy to have Karhlton on board and I encourage you to take the time to meet with him and Rob while you are here, given the essential resources and support their offices can provide to you and your agencies.

I also look forward to Sheriff Tompkins’ conversation with this panel, on two critical topics that are central to your concerns and those of all of us at the Department of Justice: the safety and well-being of officers and recruitment and retention.

Even in the best of times, law enforcement agencies struggle to keep their officers safe and healthy and increase recruitment and retention rates. But, over the past two years, you have all faced unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social division and polarization, and a significant increase in violent crime. , including gun violence and hate crimes.

All of this has only added to the stress and trauma that agents regularly face, making it even more difficult for agents to maintain their health and safety on the job, and for agencies to build and maintain a strong workforce.

That’s why we’ve made promoting the safety and well-being of officers a top priority at the Department of Justice. We know that law enforcement’s most valuable resources are the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect and serve our communities. We also know that healthy workers make healthy communities. It is essential that we all work together to restore and strengthen trust between law enforcement and the communities we all serve. Such trust is not only necessary for public safety, it also honors this nation’s core values ​​of fairness and dignity for all.

For more than a decade, the ministry has developed and invested in mental health and wellness programs to assist law enforcement.

This includes resources that the COPS office provides through programs such as the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) program, as well as assistance available through the VALOR program provided by BJA.

For example, BJA’s VALOR program has trained tens of thousands of officers in wellness and safety-focused programs and continues to provide training and technical assistance at no cost to law enforcement agencies. state, local and tribal. Through the VALOR program and LEMHWA, we have invested nearly $125 million to date in training and other assistance to support law enforcement mental health.

And just yesterday, we launched a new DOJ webpage on that identifies all of our health and wellness resources for law enforcement. It draws heavily on the extensive libraries of tools and knowledge that have been sponsored by the COPS Office and BJA in recent years and brings them all together in one place for easy agency access.

Going forward, we will continue to update this site with new material, in the hope that these resources will be of continued help to you and your colleagues.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not tell you about BJA’s extensive Public Safety Officer Benefits Program (PSOB) which helps families of loved ones injured or killed in the line of duty. . This program provides death, disability and survivor education benefits and has claims specialists available to consult with you or your agency to ensure that your members and their families can access this essential support.

In addition to agent safety and well-being, we also know that it is extremely important for us to focus on recruitment and retention. Hiring and retaining the best law enforcement officers is essential to creating and maintaining safe and thriving communities. Additionally, a diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects community residents leads to increased trust, collaboration, and transparency. We need to create opportunities for people who may never have seen themselves entering law enforcement to be encouraged to join this noble profession.

In particular, we help law enforcement agencies meet this challenge through funding available through the COPS Office Hiring Program and BJA’s Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (or Byrne JAG) program to help agencies to hire the law enforcement personnel they need. The PSC Office has also published a number of reports on recruitment and retention with the aim of sharing promising approaches with the field, and we are also looking to conduct further research to develop best practices and guidance on hiring, recruitment and retention of agents.

Another way we seek to help recruitment and retention more broadly is by easing the burden on law enforcement, investing in alternative models of crisis response and providing officers with the tools and training they need. they need to be more effective in their communities.

Indeed, our law enforcement partners have repeatedly told us that this change is necessary because they alone cannot shoulder the responsibility of meeting the needs of people in crisis. In particular, I constantly hear from law enforcement officials about the challenges their officers face in dealing with issues of mental illness, addictions, and homelessness. The stress and trauma of these jobs can take a heavy toll. We should not add to their burden by forcing them to solve a wide range of social problems – problems that cannot and should not be solved by the criminal justice system alone.

To address these issues, we promote alternative approaches to responding to calls for service that have the potential to transform policing.

For example, through BJA’s new Connect and Protect program, we are changing the way we support law enforcement and advancing new policing practices to support the field. Connect and Protect provides grants to match law enforcement and behavioral health professionals to respond to calls for service in innovative ways. Ensuring that more of these calls for service are handled effectively by mental health professionals trained to deal with people in crisis will free up law enforcement officers to deal with more offenses serious and violent. While no single program or service will prevent all tragedies, we know that a comprehensive approach that includes community-based mental health care is integral to effective solutions.

We also fund similar efforts for interventions across the criminal justice system through programs such as BJA’s Justice and Mental Health Collaborative Program (JMHCP), which funds a wide range of programs involving people with behavioral health needs, including first responder programs, community courts, crisis stabilization units, training for public safety and mental health providers – and programs that support cross-jurisdictional cooperation between state and local governments.

In FY21, we awarded more than $30 million through the JMHCP and Connect and Protect programs and in FY22, we expect to award $34 million. Additionally, the COPS office funds the establishment of crisis response teams and supports de-escalation training through its Community Policing Development Grant Program. In FY21, we awarded over $21 million in these two critical areas and expect to award the same in FY22.

In addition to the grant funds we award, we also provide training and technical assistance resources at no cost to law enforcement agencies to help you implement alternative responses. For example, BJA supports 14 model mental health learning sites across the country that support on-the-ground peer-to-peer learning. If you are considering setting up a new program, one of our learning sites will host you, free of charge, so you can learn from your peers. More information about this unique peer-to-peer learning opportunity can be found on the BJA website.

As we all know, there are no easy solutions to this recruitment and retention problem. But I am confident that together we can overcome many of the obstacles – big and small – and ensure that those dedicated to this life of public service have all the tools and supports they need.

I also believe that if we continue to focus on improving officer safety and well-being, this will also help maintain a healthy workforce. Through our programs, more officers are learning the skills they need to be effective not only on the job, but also in continually taking care of themselves on and off duty.

These are just some of the ways we at the ministry are working hard to support you and your colleagues, and I hope we will continue to find more ways to partner in this vital work. Together, we will advance civil rights, build community trust, and keep communities – and our police – healthy, safe and strong.

Thank you.


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