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Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan Provides Remarks at the National Association of Counties' Large Urban County Caucus Steering Committee Meeting


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you. It’s great to be here with Ja’Ron Smith.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), we are the largest of three grant-making components in the Department of Justice. The COPS Office and the Office on Violence Against Women are the other two. We award billions of dollars in grants every year for a full range of public safety activities – everything from preventing and reducing violent crime to protecting children to serving victims. We fund reentry services, drug courts, forensic testing, tribal public safety and dozens of other programs – some of which I’ll tell you about today. We also provide tons of training, and we serve as the Justice Department’s research and statistical arm.

Along with the U.S. Attorneys’ offices, we are the department’s link to communities. Our job is to give state, local and tribal public safety professionals the tools they need to fight crime. And given that the vast majority of crime is handled at the state and local levels, we see our role as critical. Especially so since Attorney General Barr and President Trump both value nothing more than the safety of our communities.

I know that you all share their commitment to community safety, and I speak for the attorney general when I tell you how grateful we are. The fight against crime is one for which there is no end and no rest. For the sheriffs, deputies and corrections officers on the county payroll, it is demanding, it is dangerous and it can even be deadly. There is no easy day for a law enforcement officer; and the life of a county executive, especially in a large jurisdiction like all of yours, includes more than its share of fear and worry.

We can’t eliminate the anxiety, but we can help you mitigate it. We know that county officials and county law enforcement professionals are dealing with challenges that seem to grow in number and intensity by the day – from cybercrime to lethal drugs to global human trafficking networks. Add to that the long list of social problems you contend with on a daily basis – issues like homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness – and that’s a full day’s work.

The men and women who enforce the law in your jurisdictions and man your correctional facilities are under greater threat and greater stress. Our public safety officials need our support more than ever, and the Office of Justice Programs is here to make sure you have it.

We know that one of your biggest public safety challenges is addressing mental illness, on the street and in your jails. Just to give you a data snapshot:

  • As much as 10 percent of all law enforcement calls in the U.S. involve people living with a serious mental illness.
  • About 15 percent of men and 34 percent of women in jails have a serious mental illness. That’s compared to just four percent of people in the general population.
  • We know that people with serious mental illness stay in jail longer and return more frequently.
  • And finally, people with mental illness are among a small group of people who make up the largest share of public contact with the police. A study of arrests in Camden, New Jersey, for example, found that five percent of adults accounted for 25 percent of arrests over a five-year period. These are what we call “high utilizers.

The fact is, more and more people with mental illness are coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Law enforcement officers are having to respond to these high utilizers more often, and you’ve heard it said many times that our jails and prisons have become a sort of de facto mental health treatment system.

The Department of Justice is putting its resources into finding solutions. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance runs a Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program that has provided about $125 million in grants over the last dozen years or so, and our investments have increased significantly over the last two years.

More than 100 law enforcement agencies have used these funds to build partnerships with behavioral health professionals. Many of them now have crisis teams that pair law enforcement with mental health providers. And this approach is working well. For example, in Douglas County, Kansas, jail bookings for people with serious mental illnesses dropped 56 percent over a period of four years when they used a co-responder and diversion-focused model.

We now have 10 law enforcement-mental health peer-to-peer learning sites, and we make no-cost technical assistance available to any agency that requests it. We also have a number of resources for public safety and corrections professionals available on our web site, at, which I encourage you to visit. I’d also encourage you to be on the look-out for our new Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program solicitation, which is due out very soon. This year, we’ll have a new purpose area that allows law enforcement agencies to hire social workers and behavioral health specialists to ride along with officers so that our police officers can focus on their very important mission.

Let me say just a couple of words about reentry. This remains a top public safety priority for the Trump Administration. President Trump understands that effective reentry means safer communities. That’s why he signed the First Step Act into law. Our National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is playing a major role in implementing First Step. NIJ is also advancing the body of knowledge on promising offender reentry practices. They now have a $6 million solicitation out on the street to support research projects on promising reentry practices.

Meanwhile, other parts of OJP are supporting a wide range of reentry services, from housing and job training to substance abuse treatment and family reconciliation. Last year, we awarded almost $56 million to support adult and juvenile reentry programs in dozens of state, local and tribal jurisdictions. These grants are building on the good work we’ve been able to support in previous years.

One great example is a program called Operation My Home Town, managed by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California. My Home Town provides an array of services to meet the needs of people recently released from jail. Grant funds are allowing the sheriff’s office to partner with the Workforce Development Board and the Alameda County Probation Department to create a pipeline to employment.

This is just one example of many. New solicitations for reentry programs from OJP's Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention are due out very soon. Watch for those on or through

I’ll briefly mention three other solicitations from our Bureau of Justice Assistance that I think you’ll be interested in:

  • We have $156 million available under the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program, or COSSAP, as we’re calling it. Large counties can apply for up to $1.2 million each for projects that propose a comprehensive approach to local drug and overdose problems. That closes May 21st.
  • $10 million is available under BJA’s current STOP School Violence Program. This one closes Tuesday. March 3rd, so there’s not much time left.
  • And be on the watch for our next National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative solicitation. To date, we’ve awarded over $194 million to 63 sites across 40 states under this program, which has been hugely successful in reducing the number of untested sexual assault kits across the nation. As of June 2019, SAKI sites had uploaded more than 17,500 eligible DNA profiles to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, and those profiles have found more than 8,500 matches to offenders or additional crimes.

These are just a few of the major resources we now have available. We also have a whole host of training opportunities that I would highly recommend you check out. Our goal is to support you by giving you the tools you need to meet the priorities that you’ve identified, whether it’s mental illness, substance abuse, gun crime, school violence or some combination of all those issues.

The Department of Justice is not the solution to your public safety challenges, but we stand ready and willing to help you meet those challenges in whatever way we can. This is a solemn commitment on the part of our attorney general, and one we at OJP are very proud to help carry out.

Thank you for your time.

Updated March 1, 2020