Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the 2022 Project Safe Neighborhoods National Summit to Reduce Violence and Strengthen Communities
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Anjali, thank you for that warm welcome.
I am delighted to join all of you on this second day of the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) National Summit to Reduce Violence and Strengthen Communities. I want to thank the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Director Karhlton Moore for their leadership and dedication to PSN. I also want to thank the entire teams at OJP and BJA for making this summit possible.
Project Safe Neighborhoods is coordinated through the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, in partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms – the steadfast commitment of all of the U.S. Attorneys and the ATF, as well as the other federal law enforcement components, have saved lives and made communities stronger.
This is the first national convening of PSN teams in several years, and I am grateful to all of you for participating and attending. As I reviewed the agenda, I was struck by the breadth of experience and the diversity of backgrounds of the panelists and the attendees.
We all have come together because we share a common goal – keeping our communities safe. This is a top priority for the Department of Justice. Recent horrific events in Buffalo, Laguna Woods and Milwaukee, and other communities across the country, are somber reminders of the importance of the work that we have joined here together to do.
Preventing and addressing violent crime can be achieved only in partnership with all of you here at this summit. Our PSN teams include dedicated state, local and Tribal law enforcement and corrections professionals who work hand in hand with federal agencies to investigate and prosecute crime. The department invests substantial resources to support the work of these partners.
But experience and research have taught us that enforcement alone is not enough to prevent crime. That is why, as you heard throughout the sessions yesterday, the department has deployed a comprehensive strategy to strengthen PSN that is rooted in four basic principles: building community trust and legitimacy; investing in community-based prevention and intervention programs; setting strategic enforcement priorities to target the most significant drivers of crime in a given community; and measuring the results of those efforts by reductions in crime, and not by the number of arrests or prosecutions.
The multi-disciplinary views that you all bring are critical to the success of that strategy. Law enforcement and government officials – your local expertise and leadership are essential to identifying the most significant drivers of crime impacting your communities and implementing effective strategies tailored to address those specific needs. Researchers – you help ensure that our strategies are evidence-based and work to reduce crime in practice, which can help other communities use those strategies to address their own issues. Social services professionals, public health representatives and community-based organizations and leaders – you all play a critical role in making sure that community members have access to the resources that they need and that they are empowered to strengthen their communities from within.
It is this combination of federal, state, local and Tribal partners spanning multiple disciplines that has made PSN so successful over the last 20 years.
Today, the need to reduce violent crime through this multi-disciplinary approach is more urgent than ever. Gun homicides surged significantly between 2019 and 2020, reaching the highest rate in 25 years. This, standing alone, is unacceptable.
Protecting communities from gun crime also serves another of our shared values – ensuring that everyone has the same opportunity to live free from the fear of violence. Underserved communities, especially communities of color, experience higher rates of violent crime, which have devastating effects on victims, their families and their communities. Such violence affects Black and other communities of color at disproportionate rates, and is highest in higher poverty neighborhoods. The CDC recently released a report finding that the largest increases in firearms homicide rates occurred among Black males aged 10 to 44.
The approach you take through the Project Safe Neighborhoods model can save lives, promote public safety, and build trust between law enforcement and the communities that are often most impacted by violence.
I want to talk about a few ways that the department can support your efforts to implement the PSN model in your communities. One of the department’s priorities for reducing violent crime is investing in community-based violence intervention programs. As many of you have seen firsthand, 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, and relies on credible messengers to intervene in the lives of those at the highest risk of perpetrating 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. This year the department is awarding $50 million to support community violence intervention programs.
We also are investing in programs that provide early interventions with our youth by, for example, supporting communities develop comprehensive approaches to assist elementary school-aged children who have been exposed to violence build resilience and address their trauma; supporting organizations providing mentoring services to at-risk youth; and helping school personnel address students’ mental health crises.
We also are working at the intersection of public safety and public health to find ways that we can more appropriately respond to the treatment needs of individuals experiencing mental health and co-occurring substance use disorders. We have heard repeatedly from law enforcement, prosecutors, judges the civil rights community, health professionals and government officials that we must support behavioral health programs so that individuals with mental health and co-occurring substance use disorders receive treatment and support services, instead of becoming involved in the justice system. For those who are currently incarcerated, we provide support to jails and prisons to implement and expand behavioral health treatment and other services. And for those who are reentering society after incarceration, we provide funding and technical assistance for corrections systems, as well as nonprofit organizations and Indian tribes partnering with correctional agencies, to provide critical assessments and transitional services to support continuity of care for their ongoing mental health and substance use needs. Our goal is to address and remediate the underlying conditions that often contribute to involvement in the criminal justice system in the first place.
Another pillar 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 department’s commitment to protecting civil rights and ensuring public safety is reflected in our many tools geared toward building police-community trust and legitimacy.
We can help build such legitimacy by helping our partners implement best practices long before there’s a crisis or a complete breakdown of police-community trust. Last month I announced the launch of the National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab, which will draw upon the department’s expertise, as well as years of research and engagement with law enforcement, to develop and consolidate in a centralized location the department’s resources on the best practices in policing. These best practices focus on ways to create safer communities, protect officers and residents alike, and effectively engage with the community.
And just last week, OJP announced a new resource, the Jails and Justice Support Center, that will provide the nation’s jails with resources to create safe and effective environments both for people who are detained or incarcerated and for the professionals who work in those facilities.
These resources are available to you as potential models that can be tailored to fit the needs within your own communities.
The pandemic, rise in gun violence, staffing shortages among law enforcement, and tensions between police and some communities have created extraordinary challenges. Although these issues are national in scope, the solutions must be built in local communities – rural and urban, large and small – with local leaders, advocates, residents, officials and law enforcement all working together. This is why I am so grateful for the dedication all of you have shown to PSN.
What makes the PSN model so effective is its attention to using best practices to create local solutions to violent crime, and an acknowledgment that we are not going to be able to arrest our way out of the challenges faced by communities across this country. Effective solutions require sustained engagement with communities and partnerships among all of the disciplines you bring here to this summit.
Thank you for everything you are doing to keep our communities safe. We look forward to hearing your ideas and developing effective strategies to help save lives and strengthen communities.