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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) 2022 Winter CEO Symposium


Baton Rouge, LA
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Thank you for that very kind introduction. Ron [Gathe] and I got to meet earlier this week at the orientation for new United States Attorneys in Washington, and then we got to spend several hours this morning together talking to his senior leadership staff and the whole U.S. Attorney's office here.

Good afternoon to all of you. Thanks everyone, and particularly thanks to NOBLE, for inviting me today, and for your leadership.

Keeping our country safe – including from the scourge of violent crime – is one of the Justice Department’s most important responsibilities. But it is not one we can fulfill on our own. You and your law enforcement agencies are our indispensable partners.

You are the first so many turn to when there is a crisis – large or small. Every day, people look to law enforcement for help. And you respond.

You are on the frontlines of combatting violent crime. You are asked not only to keep our communities safe, but also to step in to address a wide array of social problems.

You are often the first people to respond to dealing with a mental health crisis or a substance abuse disorder.

And as we have tragically seen too many times, you do all of this at great risk to yourselves.

I want you to know that the Justice Department recognize how much is being asked of you every single day. And we will do everything within our power to support you and help keep you safe.

As you well know, nearly 46 years ago, 60 Black law enforcement executives traveled to Washington, D.C., for a symposium on combatting crime.

They left Washington having created this organization. NOBLE’s founders recognized the power that comes from collaboration. And it is in that spirit of collaboration that I come here today.

I know that those of us in law enforcement are united when it comes to why we do this work. We are united by our commitment to keep our communities and our country safe. We are united by our commitment to uphold the rule of law and to ensure equal justice under law. And we are united by our understanding that, to do this work successfully, we must also be united with, and gain the trust of, the communities we serve.

By virtue of our experiences we all have been part of important and necessary conversations about how to build trust and legitimacy between law enforcement and our local communities.

We have been in conversations about how to retain that trust, and about how to repair it when it becomes broken.

The Justice Department has engaged in these efforts in several ways.

The method that receives the most media attention is our enforcement work, which is an essential part of how we advance accountability and transparency in policing.

But that is far from the only tool we have to help build trust and legitimacy in law enforcement. As this group knows, the Department provides billions of dollars in grants to support law enforcement.

The Department also seeks to develop and share best practices through technical assistance and other supportive means.

Today, I am announcing an important new initiative.

Through a revamped and re-envisioned Collaborative Reform Initiative, the Department’s COPS Office will be offering three different levels of assistance and expert services to our law enforcement partners everywhere in the country.

This will be the first time in history that the COPS Office is managing and providing these various levels of assistance at the same time.

Before I explain the new initiative, there is one critically important point I want to make: every part of the new Collaborative Reform Initiative is completely voluntary.

The initiative has been designed so that our law enforcement partners can make the decision to seek and customize support depending on the scope and complexity of their own needs.

Building on a decade of experience with various models, the new initiative reflects what stakeholders like you have told us.

Our new model reflects hours of listening sessions with law enforcement agencies and associations, civil rights groups, and community organizations.

NOBLE’s Executive Director, Dwayne Crawford, and his associates at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the many other law enforcement organizations – as well as many community groups and leaders – provided us with valuable insights that have informed our new plan.

This new model reflects the lessons the Justice Department has learned about how best to support you, our law enforcement partners.

The result is an approach that offers law enforcement agencies the choice of three different levels of support and intervention. Each level, in its own distinct way, will help build collaboration, trust, and legitimacy.

The first level of assistance – and the most targeted and discrete – is the continuation of the existing Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center, or CRI-TAC.

Established in 2017, CRI-TAC provides a wide range of targeted technical assistance services.

The Department’s COPS Office leads CRI-TAC. But CRI-TAC involves a coalition of support and expertise from 10 leading law enforcement stakeholder organizations, including NOBLE.

Through CRI-TAC’s “by the field, for the field” approach, the Department is able to facilitate customizable, short-term technical assistance on more than 60 subjects. Those topics range from gun violence reduction and prevention, to officer safety and wellness, to community engagement.

Subject matter experts from the field design tailored solutions in collaboration with each agency to assess its individual needs.

Technical assistance timelines are established at the pace of the requesting agency, ranging from three to six months.

Last year, CRI-TAC worked with 171 law enforcement agencies.

The new initiative will maintain CRI-TAC as the first level of support.

Now, all of us in law enforcement know that we constantly face new and unexpected challenges. Often, these challenges involve responding to a critical incident.

To help address this reality, the initiative’s second level of assistance will be an updated Critical Response program.

A law enforcement agency that is experiencing a high-profile event or other special circumstance, and that determines it could use assistance, will be able to reach out to the COPS Office for help.

Like CRI-TAC, this program is also customizable and provides flexible assistance to law enforcement agencies in a variety of ways.

Once an agency connects with us, we will have tools in place to offer support ranging from after-action reviews, to peer-to-peer exchanges, to data analysis and recommendations, to discussions with experts.

The timeline for these engagements will vary depending on the needs and scope of the situation, but it will range anywhere from two weeks to nine months.

As is the case with CRI-TAC, this program is completely voluntary and will be offered as a way for the Justice Department to support your work. Not to add to it.

Finally, we recognize that there are times when needs exceed what targeted technical assistance can provide.

We know that there are localities in which law enforcement agencies and communities are ready and eager to collaboratively reform.

Building on lessons learned from the initial Collaborative Reform model that launched in 2012 but ended in 2017, the third and most intensive piece of this new model will be the Organizational Assessments program.

This program will offer the most intensive form of support, involving in-depth assessments on systemic issues.

To reiterate – we listened when you voiced your concerns about how the program operated in the past. And that is why we are going to be doing things differently.

We heard you when you said that more helpful than one hefty report at the tail-end of an engagement would be guidance and recommendations on an ongoing basis.

Now, when an agency participates in the Organizational Assessments program, areas for reform will be addressed with timely, ongoing, and actionable guidance.

We heard you when you said that realistic recommendations are more useful than recommendations that sound good on paper but are difficult to put into place in practice.

We will not be leaving you with a long list of suggested measures to implement on your own. We will provide you with the technical assistance you need to accomplish reforms as they are identified.

To help ensure transparency and accountability, we will also routinely report the status of our efforts to the public.

I want to be clear that this level of support is intensive. It is designed to transform a law enforcement agency’s operations and its relationship with the community.

But this is not an enforcement action – it is a voluntary opportunity for an agency that knows it needs to make changes, and wants to make changes, to help them do that.

The Department will be prioritizing offering this level of support to agencies that have a clear desire to engage with this model.

It is our hope that each of these programs – CRI-TAC, Critical Response, and Organizational Assessments – will provide our law enforcement partners with the various forms of support you need to do your jobs safely and effectively.

Earlier today, you heard from my colleague, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who is an indispensable member of the Justice Department’s leadership team.

The initiative we are announcing today reflects not only her oversight of the COPS Office, but the spirit in which she operates in the Department as a whole.

Through her management of various components, including the COPS Office, the Office of Justice Programs, and the Civil Rights Division, Vanita is ensuring that we collaborate by sharing best practices and supporting each other within the Department.

Improving our coordination inside the Department will help us better support all of the external law enforcement agency partners. I cannot commend Vanita enough for her efforts on this and so many other critical issues. [Applause]

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, we at the Justice Department understand the pressures that you are under.

We recognize the extraordinary burdens that are being placed on you every day.

It is our hope that this new Collaborative Reform Initiative will ease some of those burdens.

Last Friday marked my first full year serving as Attorney General. I had enormous respect for the work that this organization does, but I have had that respect since long before I became Attorney General. This is my fourth tour of duty at the Justice Department – I just do not seem to be able to stay away. [Laughter]

During each tour, I’ve had the benefit of the support and advice from NOBLE, for which I am grateful and for which I will continue to be grateful. [Applause]

I have repeatedly emphasized the role the Justice Department plays in upholding the rule of law.

And as I have said, the only way we can do that successfully is by keeping and earning the trust of the American people and the communities we serve.

We earn that trust by keeping all of our communities safe and by protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of the people in our communities.

That is the Justice Department’s mission, and I know it is crucial. It is one that none of us can accomplish alone. It is one that we can and will accomplish together.

I thank you for your partnership and your leadership.

And I look forward to working with you in the days ahead. Thank you.

Updated March 18, 2022