U.S. Conference of Mayors Headlines Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta
"You are on the front lines of our nation’s most complex problems, and the work you do has immediate impact on people’s lives. Over the past two years, you have faced unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, large-scale demonstrations for racial justice and a rise in hate crimes and gun violence."
Public safety is a top priority for the Department of Justice. The DOJ has dedicated substantial resources to supporting our state and local partners as they investigate and prosecute violent crime. The AG's office introduced a comprehensive strategy to reduce violent crime, including vigorous law enforcement, training and technical assistance and financial support to state and local jurisdictions — to help in the fight against violent crime, strengthen communities and build community trust. In 2021, the DOJ awarded approximately $4 billion in grants and President Biden has requested more than $7 billion for the department’s grantmaking components in Fiscal Year 2022.
The DOJ remains highly committed to combatting hate crimes and reducing gun violence.
One of the DOJ's top law enforcement priorities is preventing firearms traffickers from providing weapons to people who were previously convicted of felony offenses and other prohibited purchasers. Last spring, the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General announced five strike forces consisting of teams of U.S. Attorneys, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) and state and local law enforcement partners — to disrupt illegal gun trafficking networks that channel guns into Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C.
The department is also using its rulemaking authority to strengthen response to gun violence. The department proposed new rules to close loopholes on “ghost guns” and the use of accessories to convert pistols into short-barreled rifles in order to keep guns out of the hands of those seeking to evade background checks.
The department’s grants programs, including the JAG Program, the COPS Hiring Program and the Smart Policing Initiative, increase state and local enforcement capacity by helping jurisdictions hire personnel, buy equipment, update technology, protect schools, reduce youth gang violence and implement innovative and evidence-based solutions to efficiently tackle chronic crime problems. The DOJ awarded $139 million through the COPS Hiring program to enable 183 departments to hire over 1,000 additional officers. The lion’s share of violent crime reduction is shouldered by state, local, Tribal and territorial partners, and the Justice Department made a commitment to partner with leaders in cities and towns across the country to build on local expertise and help scale up successful crime prevention strategies.
Community-based Violence Intervention Programs
Community-based violence intervention focuses on reducing violent crime by establishing relationships between community leaders, service providers and people at the center of gun violence in local communities. It relies on credible messengers to intervene in the lives of those at the highest risk of perpetrating and/or becoming victims of violence. Cities and towns across the country have deployed innovative community-based violence intervention strategies as highly effective complements to the enforcement of criminal laws.
Another cornerstone of effective crime prevention is the legitimacy of law enforcement in the eyes of the communities they serve. When residents trust the police, they are more likely to report crimes, serve as witnesses and cooperate with investigators. Such trust and legitimacy are not only necessary for public safety, they also honor this nation’s core values of fairness and dignity for all. The DOJ's commitment to protecting civil rights and ensuring public safety is reflected in our many tools geared toward building police-community trust.
The department supports evidence-based programs that better respond to the needs of people with mental illness and co-occurring substance use. The support for behavioral health programs is needed in order to treat rather than jail.
Connect and Protect
To promote these efforts, the department announced a new initiative, Connect and Protect, that supports law enforcement-health system collaborations for justice-involved people with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use. By providing community-based treatment, the cycle of arrest and incarceration for the most vulnerable members of our society can be refocused to impact scarce criminal justice resources and save lives.
The department provides no-cost technical assistance to jurisdictions implementing different types of law enforcement reforms and community-based programs — regardless of whether they receive grants from the department. The department’s Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center, (CRI-TAC), provides a wide-range of technical assistance services to law enforcement agencies to increase accountability and build trust between police and the communities they serve.
Health and Wellness
An essential part of the department’s technical assistance addresses law enforcement mental health and wellness.
Addressing effective crime prevention and community trust and ensuring that law enforcement officers have the services they need is a difficult and often dangerous process, and the pandemic has not helped the stress and trauma, which is sustaining highly acute levels.
This year, the department awarded over $7 million to improving law enforcement’s access to mental health and wellness services, doubling the number of agencies that received such funding. Working with our law enforcement partners, the department has developed resources, webinars and best practices for law enforcement agencies.
The DOJ uses its civil enforcement authority to remedy patterns and practices of unlawful conduct by police, including excessive use of force, discriminatory or otherwise unlawful stops and seizures and practices that discriminate against people with disabilities.
This past September, a memo was issued establishing a set of principles to make the use of monitors in consent decrees involving state and local governmental entities more efficient, cost-effective and transparent to the court, jurisdictions and the public.
The department is drawing on user experience as well as years of research and engagement with law enforcement, advocates and other subject matter experts, to develop and consolidate resources on the best practices in policing, including the way mass demonstrations and civil unrest is handled.
Communities should be allowed to exercise their constitutional rights and officers need to demonstrate what tactics of Protest Management can build public trust.
Communities, including mayors, can request assistance from the DOJ's Community Relations Service. CRS provides facilitation, mediation, consultation and training services in the wake of high-profile incidents that cause tension and social unrest.
CRS also helps jurisdictions address issues causing tension in the community, including police practices and hate-motivated incidents.
~Paraphrased content from the Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 19, 2022.~