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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA) Winter Conference


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Sheriff Koutoujian. And thank you Attorney General Garland for your exemplary leadership. I am so honored to be serving with you.

I am honored to receive the President’s Award from MCSA, and I am especially gratified to be receiving it from you, Sheriff Koutoujian, as you finish your tenure as President. You have led MCSA with a deep commitment to law enforcement, a dedication to evidence-based practices and compassion for the communities MCSA serves. I am grateful that we’ve always been able to have direct and honest conversations, including about how the department can better partner with MCSA. Under your leadership, the Justice Department and Major County Sheriffs have deepened our strong relationship of trust.

This relationship is especially important today. Law enforcement faces unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, low officer morale, staffing shortages and a rise in violent crime. And the recent spate of killings of officers is simply gut-wrenching and unacceptable.

Sheriffs play a unique role in our law enforcement community – you protect our communities from crime, provide security for our courts and run our jails. The department is always open to hear how we can best support you. Last year, the department invested $4 billion in programs to reduce violent crime, strengthen communities, and enhance officer wellness. We hope that Congress will pass the President’s budget which would give DOJ $7 billion – that would be an additional $2.5 billion over what we had this year – to do even more.

As the Attorney General just highlighted, reducing violent crime is a top priority for the department. Everything we do to protect public safety is accomplished in close coordination with our state and local counterparts. Last year we dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to help our state and local law partners develop effective anti-crime strategies designed to meet the individualized needs of our communities.

Experience and research have also taught us that enforcement alone is not enough to prevent crime. As sheriffs, you know all too well that your deputies are being tasked with responding to calls for people in crisis who so often need treatment and not incarceration. And you see firsthand in your jails how drugs and mental illness can trap people in a cycle of arrest and recidivism. We know and we have heard repeatedly from you that you cannot alone shoulder the responsibility of fixing the underlying conditions that often lead to involvement in the justice system.  

To make communities safer, sheriffs across the nation have initiated a broader conversation about how best to address the needs of people with mental illness and substance use disorders and are leading the charge to pilot innovative, evidence-based programs that keep people on the path to treatment and recovery and out of the criminal justice system. To name just a few: medication-assisted treatment in jails, and, importantly, in the community; crisis intervention and de-escalation training that can minimize risks of harm to people in crisis and to responding officers and the public; collaborations among law enforcement, corrections, health professionals, case workers and supportive housing providers to help those with mental illness and drug use issues get community-based treatment. Sheriff Koutoujian, you have spearheaded programs in Middlesex County that have become leading models in the country, and I commend the leadership shown by Sheriff Lemma in Seminole County as well as so many sheriffs in the MCSA to develop these and other programs.

The department stands ready to support your efforts. Last year, the department awarded over $300 million to address America’s substance use crisis; nearly $140 million to help jurisdictions hire over 1000 officers and deputies; and tens of millions for collaborations between mental health and criminal justice professionals. The department also provides no-cost technical assistance – regardless of whether a jurisdiction receives grants from the department. The department’s Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center, which counts MCSA as one of its partnering organizations, provides a wide range of services tailored to the needs of the agency.

Finally, we are all too aware of the tremendous mental and emotional strains that law enforcement deals with every day. The honorable work that law enforcement does day in and day out does not get the attention it deserves. This year, the department awarded over $7 million to officer mental health and wellness services. Too often there is a stigma attached to receiving such services. For the sake of officers and their families, we need to have robust conversations about mental health and firmly commit to supporting programs that help keep our law enforcement healthy and safe.

Again, Sheriff Koutoujian thank you for this honor. Congratulations on your amazing achievements as President this past year. Sheriff Lemma, congratulations on your inauguration as President. I look forward to continuing the partnership between MCSA and the department – you have my cell phone and can reach out morning, noon or night. And I thank MCSA and your members for all you do for all of us.

Updated February 8, 2022