December 5, 2022

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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium

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<div>Thank you for welcoming me to the 2022 Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium. I want to thank the entire IACP team for your leadership and for your partnership.  </div>

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for welcoming me to the 2022 Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium. I want to thank the entire IACP team for your leadership and for your partnership.  

While the circumstances of the pandemic have prevented me from traveling as much as I would have liked, I am so happy to be getting back out on the road.

I chose to come to this symposium in Atlanta as one of my first stops because I could not think of a more important topic than officer safety and wellness.

From here, I will meet with the Justice Department’s Atlanta-based law enforcement agents and prosecutors, as well as our state and local law enforcement partners.

Later today, I will announce the nationwide recipients of the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Community Policing.

That award would not be possible without the active participation of numerous organizations, including the IACP.

Three recipients of this year’s award are detectives with the DeKalb County Police Department. And I am thrilled to be able to present them with their awards in-person later today.

I look forward to telling them how much the Justice Department appreciates their exceptional community policing efforts.

The actions of these officers – and thousands like them – are made all the more extraordinary because of the enormous pressures that we know law enforcement is facing.

At the Justice Department, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has put an additional strain on your departments and made your jobs even more dangerous.

We know that, despite the many challenges, you continue to show up and put your lives on the line every day.

You deserve to have the resources you need to stay safe.

And you and your families deserve to have the support you need to cope with the stresses and burdens that are placed upon you.

I know that many of my Justice Department colleagues have joined you this week to underscore the Department’s commitment to officer safety and wellness.

I want to thank Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who will speak to you shortly, for her leadership on this topic.

As a part of her many responsibilities, she oversees the Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office).

If my numbers are right, leadership and staff from OJP and the COPS Office have led or participated in around fifteen sessions at this symposium.

On Tuesday, you heard from our new Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Karhlton Moore, who discussed the Department’s efforts regarding law enforcement officer suicide awareness and prevention. I want to thank him and the entire BJA team for their work.

And yesterday, you heard from specialists in the COPS Office about the current funding opportunities and resources that are available to state, local, Tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank and recognize the acting Director of the COPS Office, Rob Chapman, who is here today – and his entire team – for the work they do.

I do not want to spend the rest of my time here repeating information you have already heard, but I do want to reiterate our commitment to providing you with the support you need.

Much of that support is carried out in coordination with the IACP.

The IACP is currently implementing several key pieces of our VALOR officer safety and wellness initiative.

That initiative is the largest program of its kind nationally. VALOR offers trainings, research, and guidance on preventing violence against law enforcement and supporting officer wellness.

More than 100,000 officers have benefited from VALOR program training, including 1,500 thus far in 2022.

The IACP is carrying out a $2 million BJA grant to convene a national consortium on preventing law enforcement suicide. You are also carrying out a $1.5 million BJA grant on strengthening officer wellness.

Meanwhile, through Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act grants, the Department’s COPS Office has issued over $13 million in grants to support law enforcement officers and their families.

I am pleased to report that earlier this week, the COPS Office released the Department’s solicitation for this year’s Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act grants to support $7 million in suicide prevention and other mental health and wellness initiatives.

As a part of its research responsibilities under that Act, the COPS Office also authors reports with valuable, actionable information about successful mental health and wellness best practices.

The Collaborative Reform Initiative-Technical Assistance Center, or CRI-TAC, is another COPS Office program that provides targeted technical assistance services on a wide range of subjects, including officer safety and wellness.

We are fortunate that the IACP is the lead law enforcement organization that partners with us on this “for the field, by the field” model of training and technical assistance.

Law enforcement officers are the Justice Department’s indispensable partners, and we know that we cannot do our job successfully if you cannot do yours safely. 

Last week marked one year that I have served as Attorney General.

But this is my fourth tour of duty at the Justice Department.

Throughout them all, I have had the privilege to work with and learn from officers and agents across government and across the country.

The case that made the deepest impact on me was the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

When I arrived in Oklahoma just two days after the bombing, night had fallen. But powerful lights lit up the bombsite as if it were the middle of the day.

First responders who had rushed to Oklahoma from across the country were sifting through the rubble, searching for survivors and for the dead. Everyone was crying.

We did not know exactly how many people had died, but we knew that the children’s center – which had been at the front of the building – was gone.

Over the next couple of months, all of us – prosecutors, agents, officers, and first responders – worked out of the same building.

The prosecutors, agents, and officers were on the second floor. On the first floor, the Salvation Army had set up a food line for all of us.

On many occasions, when I was getting something to eat before heading back up to work, I would see first responders in tears as they were getting their food.  

A chaplain met with first responders leaving the site, and a critical incident workshop was created in partnership with a local university to provide counseling and support.

But as the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum has noted, “[a]t the time of the bombing, the implications of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) weren’t understood as well as they are today. First responders, medical personnel, survivors and everyone involved were subjected to traumatic experiences – and many did not get the immediate counseling and help they needed.”

As evidenced by this symposium, today there is more awareness about the devastating impact these kinds of traumatic events have on those we ask to respond to them.

I was forever changed by my work in Oklahoma City nearly 27 years ago.

But I did not need that experience to know that our nation always asks law enforcement officers to respond to some of the most difficult, and most traumatic, moments that our communities face.

I know that the impact of responding to a difficult call stays with you long after it is over.

The traumatic experiences you endure on a regular basis stay with you.

I want you to know that at the Justice Department, you have an enormous team –115,000 of us –  who stand ready to support you.

I am grateful for the opportunity to join you today. And look forward to our continued work together.

Thank you.

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