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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks on Law Enforcement Recruitment and Retention


Washington, DC
United States

Good morning. Thank you, Karhlton, for the kind introduction and for your leadership at the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Thank you to our fantastic COPS Director, Hugh Clements, for his invaluable leadership on this issue and so many others. I also want to thank the entire BJA and COPS teams for all their work over the past few months to make this convening possible.

And thank you all for being here. I wanted to come welcome you this morning to emphasize how important this meeting is to me and to the Justice Department. I am thrilled to see so many familiar faces in the room, and I am truly pleased that we have such a distinguished and experienced group of law enforcement leaders spending the day here, talking not just about the current crisis in recruitment and retention but most importantly about how we can develop and implement real, practical solutions for moving forward.

Today is an opportunity to build on the promising ideas raised during a meeting the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General and I had with several of you this past February in D.C. and to focus on both short-term responses and long-term strategies to tackle recruitment and retention problems.

Your commitment and the work you are already doing is critical — from looking at pipeline issues to internship and apprenticeship programs to figuring out retention incentives that actually work and so much more. We at the Justice Department are here to work with you and learn from you. Today is not the beginning and it certainly won’t be the end, but it is an important step to making progress on this issue that sometimes feels intractable.

The idea for this convening came from you. The recruitment and retention crisis is the number one issue the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General and I hear about from our state and local law enforcement partners. We hear about it from our own law enforcement components as well. I have heard from line officers, union leaders, command staff and police chiefs alike, from large, medium and small departments, at the federal, state and local levels, and in cities, suburbs and rural communities across the country. It affects everyone.

It is also important to make clear that when we say “recruitment and retention,” it is actually about so much more:

  • I don’t have to explain to anyone in this room that hiring and holding onto qualified, experienced, committed law enforcement personnel is critical to public safety. Communities that struggle to maintain a top notch, diverse cadre of police officers have reduced capacity to respond to urgent community safety needs, engage in proactive community policing, or foster vibrant community partnerships.
  • It is also fundamental to officer safety and wellness. We know the significant impact this staffing crisis has had on officer morale. We have placed too many social problems at the feet of police and are asking officers to do too much. Officers are burning the candle at both ends until, for many, they are simply burnt out and higher pay in other jurisdictions or professions becomes a draw. Meanwhile, other government agencies need to invest more in community safety and health solutions so that everything doesn’t fall on law enforcement alone and so officers have the supports they need.
  • Recruitment and retention is also vital for building and maintaining police-community trust. Well-staffed and well-trained police forces not only help reduce violent crime, they increase community trust and collaboration, all of which contribute to building safe, healthy, and thriving communities.

This is why strengthening officer recruitment and retention is a top priority for the Department of Justice. We know this is a crisis. We recognize that this moment calls for deep reflection and big ideas. And it also calls for concrete strategies that departments can start using now and can rely on in the future. That is why we are here today.

We are here to talk about nuts and bolts around streamlining hiring practices without lowering standards; getting more young people; women; people of color and diversity into the profession; learning from the private sector and more. We are here to look inward, at department culture and transparency, community-police trust, generational divides, and the image of the profession, and how all these things may contribute to or exacerbate the current crisis. And of course, you are here to listen to and learn from each other.

Our goal is to coalesce around ‘best practices’ in recruitment and retention and lift and scale up those strategies that are working. But we also want to create, together, the ‘next practices’ that build upon lessons learned and leverage the expertise and creativity in this room. I hope that your discussions here today involve heavy doses of boldness and innovation. And I hope that together we can build a roadmap for short-, medium- and long-term strategies for the field to address this crisis, nationwide and in communities large and small.

We at the Justice Department are committed to deploying the full range of our funding, training, and technical assistance tools and resources to support these big ideas. We are here today, and we are in this for the long haul.

Thank you for your participation in today’s convening and for your commitment, expertise, and partnership. I look forward to harnessing the ideas generated together today and turning them into concrete actions to foster a top tier and inclusive law enforcement workforce for years to come. And all that in service of increasing public safety and public trust in every community across the country. Thank you.

Updated April 18, 2023