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Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan Speaks at the National League of Cities Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee Meeting


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. It’s wonderful to be here.

I want to thank the committee for the chance to talk about the work we’re doing at the Department of Justice to support public safety in our nation’s cities. I’m especially glad to tell you about the work now underway as part of the president’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice.

Let me begin by saying that nothing is more important to the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) than the safety of our communities and the well-being of America’s police. We are very fortunate to have a president and an attorney general for whom these are top priorities. You may recall that two of President Trump’s earliest executive actions were the creation of a crime reduction task force and a “back the blue” order to curb violence against law enforcement. He has been consistent and unqualified in his support for our nation’s cops.

Attorney General Barr shares the president’s commitment. No one has greater respect for the rule of law than Bill Barr, and no one – with the exception of our president – has been a bigger advocate for our men and women in blue.

Their commitment has paid dividends. We can see it in the statistics. Thanks to solid partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement, crime rates were down in 2017 and 2018, after two years of upticks, and preliminary data from the FBI show that both violent and property crimes were down in the first half of 2019, as well. I think it’s fair to say that credit for this progress goes to a combination of dedicated federal and municipal leadership.

It’s appropriate that we feel good about what we’ve been able to accomplish. At the same time, we know we can’t allow ourselves to become complacent. Crime remains stubbornly high in some cities – disturbingly high in some cases. Illegal guns and violent gangs remain potent threats in many neighborhoods, and while we are finally starting to see a drop in overall drug overdose deaths, fatalities from dangerous drugs like fentanyl, meth and cocaine are actually on the rise. It’s a reminder, as the attorney general continues to remind us, that the fight against crime is never-ending and that we must remain vigilant.

Supporting state and local crime-fighting is OJP’s bread and butter. We continue to play a major role in Project Safe Neighborhoods, which remains a cornerstone of the department’s violence reduction efforts. We’re also supporting another great federal-state-local collaboration – Operation Relentless Pursuit, which is now in seven cities where violent crime is well above the national average. We’re increasing the number of federal law enforcement officers in these cities and bulking up federal task forces in collaboration with state and local law enforcement. As part of that effort, we’re providing $66 million to hire new officers and provide mission-critical equipment and technology.

We’re also providing critical support to Project Guardian, which is another department-led violence reduction effort that focuses on reducing gun crime. Project Guardian complements Project Safe Neighborhoods and operates on five basic principles – coordinated federal and local prosecution, robust background checks, improved information sharing, better information about people prohibited from accessing guns due to mental illness, and greater coordination around crime gun intelligence.

One of OJP’s major contributions to Project Guardian is our support of crime gun intelligence centers in 19 cities. These centers are incredible. They partner local law enforcement with federal agents to trace gun crimes, and we’ve seen some big successes. In some cases, they’ve helped reduce turnaround time for ballistics analysis from days and even weeks to just a matter of hours, and that has contributed to a drop in gun violence in a number of jurisdictions.

We’re also helping law enforcement and first responders deal with the addiction crisis in our country. We’ve funded nearly 300 sites under our Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant and Substance Abuse Program. Many of these grants are designed to connect first responders with treatment providers so that they can respond more effectively to overdoses and other drug incidents. We’re making another $156 million available this year to support more programs like these. I encourage you all to check out our solicitation, which is now open until May 21st. You can find it on

We know school violence is another major concern of local leaders, and we are taking steps to address that, as well. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance will be releasing its latest STOP School Violence Program solicitation this week, and I encourage you to be on the look-out for that. And once again this year, we will be making major investments in adult and juvenile reentry services under our Second Chance Act grant programs.  You’ll find open solicitations for those programs on our website, too.

And before I turn to the law enforcement commission, let me say a word about our work to improve law enforcement safety and wellness. As you well know, our nation’s police are under greater stress, and greater threat, than ever. They face off against an ever-widening array of criminal activity – from lethal drugs to global human trafficking networks to all manner of cybercrimes – and they endure tens of thousands of physical assaults every year.

They are also often the first to encounter community social problems, like homelessness and mental illness. And for all this, they are frequently rewarded by unjust criticism from people who think they know better how to do their jobs. This is taking a toll. Officer recruitment and retention has become a major problem for many departments. The number of officers per capita has fallen over the last two decades. And most troubling of all, the number of officer suicides has gone up over the last four years and now surpasses, by far, the number of line-of-duty deaths. This is all heartbreaking, and it is unacceptable.

OJP is investing substantial resources in officer safety and wellness. Last year, we awarded more than $62 million in safety and wellness grants. More than $21 million of that total helped over 5,200 jurisdictions purchase protective body armor. Another $23 million supported body-worn cameras. And almost $15 million of that went out from our VALOR and National Officer Safety initiatives to provide training to improve survivability, resilience and well-being, including our National Suicide Awareness for Law Enforcement Officers, or SAFLEO, program.

But officer safety, and the safety of our communities, are bigger than OJP. As I said earlier, they are top of mind for our president. Which is why he established his Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. I have the great honor to serve as Vice Chair of the Commission, serving with Phil Keith, the Commission’s Chair and the Director of the COPS Office. Sixteen other law enforcement and criminal justice experts from across the country serve as commissioners. We’ve already held our first hearing, and more hearings, field visits and public meetings are in the works.

We are looking at the full range of issues – recruiting and training, data and reporting, the intersection of public safety and social problems, juvenile justice and youth crime, of course officer safety, and a whole host of other topics. Our report is due to the president at the end of October, so we are working fast and feverishly. Our goal is to shape our findings into a blueprint for tackling the biggest law and order problems of our day. And I encourage you to consider submitting comments if you have thoughts you’d like to share based on your perspective as municipal leaders. You can send your comments to

I’ll end by saying that I have worked with law enforcement throughout my career – first as a local prosecutor, then as a state court trial judge and now as a federal official in Washington. I know how hard your officers’ work, and I know how much you, as local leaders, agonize about crime and safety. Let me assure you that you have allies in the Department of Justice, starting with our attorney general. Bill Barr wants nothing more than to help you bring peace and order to your cities.

We know that crime and violence are not problems that the federal government can solve, certainly not alone, but I believe that we can be part of the solution, working with you and the men and women who protect your communities.

I want to thank you all for your time, and for all that you do to keep the cities of America safe.

Updated March 8, 2020