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Remarks by Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason Before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs


United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Coburn and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to speak with you today about the Department of Justice’s role in supporting state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have raised concerns about whether state and local law enforcement’s use of military type equipment and tactical training should be more closely examined. As President Obama has said, the laws of the United States mandate a clear distinction between our national armed forces and civilian state and local law enforcement.

To help maintain that distinction while ensuring that civilian law enforcement departments have access to state-of-the-art equipment and training, Congress has authorized the Department of Justice to administer programs and funding to help state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies safeguard their communities, while also protecting the civil liberties of their citizens.

As Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs, I am responsible for overseeing an array of activities designed to support law enforcement. Our work with law enforcement agencies is part of our overall mission to provide leadership, information, and other assistance to strengthen community safety and ensure the fair administration of justice.

One of our largest programs – and the leading source of federal funding for law enforcement – is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, commonly known as JAG. JAG, a formula grant program, supports a wide range of activities intended to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system. Due to its importance in community crime prevention and reduction, we take great pains to see that funds are used appropriately and administered in the most transparent way possible.

Our Bureau of Justice Assistance – the office responsible for managing the JAG program – takes a number of steps to ensure compliance with program stipulations and prevent misuse of funds, including the requirement of quarterly financial and activity reports and an annual desk review of each of its active grants. These measures allow us to maximize our oversight of JAG grants and minimize the potential for inappropriate use of federal funds.

As we provide critical funding to state and local law enforcement agencies, our research and development and standards and testing programs – managed by the National Institute of Justice – enable us to deploy state-of-the-art equipment and technology to aid them in their work. Much of the equipment and technology used in public safety is adapted from the military. A notable example is police body armor, which has saved the lives of more than 3,100 officers.

Our partnership with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security has allowed us to collaborate on the research and development of these technologies and help make them available to public safety agencies. We accomplish this by providing technical assistance to state and local agencies through the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.

I wish to also add that, through the Police-Public Contact Survey, our Bureau of Justice Statistics collects data on citizen-law enforcement interactions such as driver stops and requests for assistance. We are actively working to improve our understanding of the nature of those interactions and to bolster our collections of data on the excessive use of force by law enforcement.

Mr. Chairman, the Department of Justice and my office – the Office of Justice Programs – are committed to using our resources to help America’s law enforcement agencies protect their communities while earning the trust and respect of the citizens they serve. We will continue to bring the latest knowledge and the best tools to this task.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, and I look forward to working with the committee to ensure that we are able to meet our collective goals of public safety and public trust.

Updated September 17, 2014