Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Announces Launch of the National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Announces Launch of the National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab

Good morning. Eileen, thank you for your kind words, and for your exceptional public service to both this nation and this great city.

I also want to thank Chief Michel Moore for his gracious welcome and support for this event. As a longtime veteran of LAPD, you have experienced firsthand the challenges that this beautiful city has faced, and I thank you for your leadership in working to institutionalize a community policing model that engages the community as a full partner in achieving public safety.

I want to recognize BJA Director Karhlton Moore for his excellent leadership, and for his team’s work in making this day possible.

I want to thank our partners at the National Policing Institute (NPI), especially Jim Burch, NPI’s president and a longtime colleague.

I am grateful that leaders from our U.S. Attorney community – along with the COPS Office, the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and the Civil Rights Division are in attendance today.

I am struck by all of the invaluable experience and diversity of perspectives here today. Leaders in the fields of policing, research and advocacy, and officials from federal, state and local governments – all here today because we share a deep commitment to some simple core values:

First, we must keep our communities safe.

Second, respecting civil rights is a fundamental responsibility of law enforcement and is necessary for officers to maintain the trust of the communities they serve.

And third, community trust is essential for public safety.

When residents trust the police, they are more likely to report crimes, serve as witnesses and cooperate with investigators. When they do not, officers are less able to do their jobs, and communities are less safe.

Trust and legitimacy are not only necessary for public safety, they also honor this nation’s core values of fairness and dignity for all.

I have had the privilege of talking to hundreds of officers throughout my career, and I know that so many officers seek to do the right thing every time they put on their uniforms. Law enforcement is a noble profession of public service, and the honorable work done by police officers across this nation is too often overlooked and underappreciated.

I also know that in too many communities, residents lack trust in the police. Community members and advocates talk about too often feeling scared by those who are charged with protecting them. And when officers violate the civil rights of the residents they are responsible for protecting, they lose legitimacy within the community.

George Floyd’s murder, and the widespread community mobilization that followed, renewed a necessary and urgent conversation about community trust, equal justice and policing.

This conversation has been part of our national dialogue for a long time – in the wake of the Civil War, during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Ferguson in 2014, and, of course, right here in LA 30 years ago.

I am especially hopeful today because I have heard from stakeholders from all parts of our justice system who are united in a consensus that we must embrace the lessons learned from our past, learn how to effectively communicate with each other and identify and implement best practices that create safer communities, protect officers and residents alike and build community-police trust.

The department’s commitment to protecting civil rights and ensuring public safety is reflected in our many tools geared toward building police-community trust. We use the tool of enforcement to prosecute individual officers who willfully violate the law and we enter into settlements and consent decrees to remedy systemic patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct.

But our experience has taught us that these enforcement actions – as critical as they are – cannot and will not resolve the pressing issues that our communities now face. In a nation of 18,000 law enforcement agencies, we will not enforce or litigate our way to fair policing and safe communities.

The department most effectively achieves its twin missions of upholding the Constitution and protecting public safety when we support our state and local law enforcement partners as they implement best practices long before there’s a crisis or a complete breakdown of police-community trust. Although these issues are national in scope, the solutions must be built in local communities with local leaders, advocates, residents, officials and law enforcement all working together.

Our law enforcement partners have repeatedly called on DOJ to help them do so by providing resources and models to ensure officers have the tools and training to effectively engage with the community and to identify the requirements of constitutional policing – independent of intervention by the Justice Department.

Community leaders have looked to DOJ to lend expertise where stakeholders, including law enforcement, want to proactively forge a new path in public safety and justice.

We listened.

Last month, the Attorney General announced the launch of a revamped and renewed Collaborative Reform Initiative, in which the COPS Office will provide three types of highly tailored technical assistance to law enforcement agencies that request it. Attorney General Garland said:

“The Justice Department recognizes how much is being asked of law enforcement officers every single day, and we are committed to providing them with the support they need to build the collaboration, trust, and legitimacy that is essential to public safety.”

Today, I am announcing an important next step in the Justice Department’s programs to help support law enforcement agencies seeking to implement the best practices in constitutional policing: the National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab.

The Knowledge Lab will draw upon the department’s expertise from consent decrees, as well as years of research, technical assistance and engagement with law enforcement, advocates and other subject matter experts, to develop and consolidate resources on the best practices in policing.

All parts of the department that work with state and local law enforcement, including our federal law enforcement components, Civil Rights Division, COPS Office, Office on Violence Against Women and Office of Justice Programs will be involved. This initiative will give state and local governments, law enforcement leadership, and community advocates ready access to resources that can inform training and policies – independent of any engagement with the department.

I am especially proud to be standing here today to announce this initiative – I had craved for this type of initiative when I was the head of the Civil Rights Division from 2014 to 2017.

The Knowledge Lab will be a free, voluntary one-stop-shop for information, guidance and training for law enforcement agencies.

It will give them access to the standards set by their field, and it will provide critical tools and technical assistance to help agencies operationalize the core principles of fairness, equity and procedural justice throughout their practices as we seek to protect public safety.

Specifically, the Knowledge Lab will:

  • Identify core competencies of constitutional policing, based on both the department’s evidence-based policy and our in-the-field experience addressing systemic constitutional violations by law enforcement agencies through pattern or practice investigations and consent decrees and settlements.
  • Assist law enforcement in voluntarily assessing their own practices, policies, training and outcomes.
  • Identify gaps in resources, training and services that the department should consider developing for law enforcement to ensure resources are focused on supporting the needs of 21st century policing.
  • Provide on-demand consultation, advice, research, and assistance to agencies, departments, and partner organizations to work together to protect the public and prevent crime.
  • And allow for external collaboration with thought leaders regarding constitutional policing and crime prevention – including civil rights advocacy organizations, police experts, community-based organizations and national and international academic research institutions.

The goal for the Knowledge Lab is to build a highly visible and trusted national resource to improve public safety through effective crime-fighting strategies, robust constitutional policing and stronger community relationships. Together, we will tackle the most pressing issues, including effective crime prevention strategies, use of force and de-escalation, officer recruitment and retention, officer mental health and wellness and much more.

The Knowledge Lab will be managed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, through a partnership with the National Policing Institute in collaboration with 21st Century Policing Solutions, and a diverse cohort of policing experts from across the country. I am grateful that this initiative has already received the support of so many major law enforcement groups and civil rights advocates.

And we are grateful to all of you. The Knowledge Lab was born out of what we heard from you, and it will be built with your partnership.

The full support of the sectors represented in this room today is critical to success. Community members, civil rights groups, and, of course, law enforcement: you will each play a crucial part in providing your relevant expertise, and I am grateful that you have been able to join us in this groundbreaking effort.

The Knowledge Lab will advance constitutional policing practices, empower officers to confidently do their jobs to protect public safety and engage with the community and help rebuild community-police trust where it has eroded.

Building community trust is a national challenge but it calls for local solutions. Police departments and communities can only achieve progress through the hard work of officers, union leaders, advocates, elected officials and community residents. The Knowledge Lab will serve as a tremendous resource to those working on these issues in their communities.

Thank you all for your commitment to and enthusiasm for this important work. I look forward to continuing to partner with you and to learn from you on our shared quest for safety and equal justice.

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