Remarks by Katharine T. Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs, at the Pennsylvania Roundtable on Mental Health and Addiction

Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here today, and it’s such a privilege to join the Second Lady for this conversation.

I want to thank my colleagues in the administration and all of the experts taking part in today’s discussion. And most of all, my thanks to the survivors who were brave enough to tell their stories. Our attorney general would have been very proud to hear how each of you has fought to overcome your addiction. I saw this battle play out many times during my days as a judge, when I ran a drug court, and I know how tough a fight it is. You are all warriors in every sense of the word, and we are all pulling for you.

There are many, many people across our country struggling with addiction and abuse, and too many – far too many, sadly – have lost the fight. Over 700,000 Americans have died of a drug overdose in the last two decades. Attorney General Barr understands the enormity of this crisis. Countless families, and communities of all sizes, have suffered. Bill Barr sees this not just as a public health and public safety emergency – which it certainly is – but as a national tragedy, which is why he is willing to do whatever it takes, to deploy whatever resources are necessary, to bring this tragedy to an end.

This includes more aggressive prosecutions of drug traffickers, broader support of community-based programs and expanded treatment options, including telehealth options in rural communities, that put drug-involved individuals on the road to recovery.

Unfortunately, the first step toward recovery is often a brush with the law. Sometimes, it’s a domestic incident that brings police into contact with a user. Often, it’s an overdose that draws first responders to the scene. The way these encounters are handled can make a huge difference in treatment outcomes. The problem is, police are equipped to enforce the law and restore order – they are generally not trained to respond to a user’s health and mental health needs.

In order to respond comprehensively – keeping the peace while facilitating treatment – it’s crucial that we strengthen the connection between treatment providers and law enforcement.  My agency, the Office of Justice Programs, is investing substantial resources in programs that facilitate these partnerships. We’re also supporting drug and veterans treatment courts that keep drug-involved offenders from falling deeper into the justice system. Research shows that these programs work, and I’ve seen personally the enormous difference they make.

These and other Department of Justice programs are helping us get treatment to people who come into contact with the justice system, including prisoners and jail inmates. Last year, we awarded more than $333 million in grants to tackle drugs and addiction, which was an unprecedented amount of funding. I’m very pleased that we’re continuing those investments this year. In fact, we’re going a little beyond. As we speak, more than $340 million in grant awards are going out the door to communities across the country to combat the addiction crisis.

This includes $29 million to help criminal justice officials and mental health providers meet the needs of people with mental illness. As much as 10 percent of all police calls in the U.S. involve people with a serious mental illness, and a substantial percentage of people in jails have a serious mental illness – and they stay there longer and return more frequently. It’s critical that we address these challenges at the outset and throughout the course of their involvement in the system, and that’s precisely what these new grants will do.

The Department of Justice is the federal government’s largest law enforcement agency, and the attorney general is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. We believe that people who break the law should be held accountable, but we also believe very strongly that people who are dealing with addiction and mental illness need support. Otherwise, they will continue to be a danger to themselves, to their families and to their communities.

It’s in all our interests that they succeed, which is why we will continue working hard to make sure that treatment and safety are part of a unified response. The Department of Justice is with all of you in this fight, and we will not spare our resources.

Thank you for your time.

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    Critical technologies—such as elements of artificial intelligence and biotechnology—are those necessary to maintain U.S. technological superiority. As such, they are frequently the target of theft, espionage, and illegal export by adversaries. The Department of Defense (DOD) has outlined a revised process (see figure) to better identify and protect its critical technologies including those associated with acquisition programs throughout their lifecycle or those early in development. Prior DOD efforts to identify these technologies were considered by some military officials to be too broad to adequately guide protection. The revised process is expected to address this by offering more specificity about what elements of an acquisition program or technology need to be protected and the protection measures DOD is expected to implement. It is also expected to support DOD's annual input to the National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies, which was first published in October 2020. Overview of DOD's Revised Process to Identify and Protect Critical Acquisition Programs and Technologies DOD began implementing this process in February 2020, and officials expect to complete all steps for the first time by September 2021. DOD has focused on identifying critical acquisition programs and technologies that need to be protected and how they should be protected. It has not yet determined how it will communicate the list internally and to other agencies, which metrics it will use to assess protection measures, and which organization will oversee future protection efforts. By determining the approach for completing these tasks, DOD can better ensure its revised process will support the protection of critical acquisition programs and technologies consistently across the department. Once completed, the revised process should also inform DOD and other federal agencies' protection efforts. Military officials stated they could use the list of critical acquisition programs and technologies to better direct resources. Officials from the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury stated that they could use the list, if it is effectively communicated, to better understand what is important to DOD to help ensure protection through their respective programs. The federal government spends billions annually to develop and acquire advanced technologies. It permits the sale and transfer of some of these technologies to allies to promote U.S. national security, foreign policy, and economic interests. However, the technologies can be targets for adversaries. The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 requires the Secretary of Defense to develop and maintain a list of acquisition programs, technologies, manufacturing capabilities, and research areas that are critical for preserving U.S. national security advantages. Ensuring effective protection of critical technologies has been included on GAO's high-risk list since 2007. This report examines (1) DOD's efforts to identify and protect its critical technologies, and (2) opportunities for these efforts to inform government protection activities. GAO analyzed DOD critical acquisition program and technologies documentation, and held interviews with senior officials at DOD and other federal agencies responsible for protecting critical technologies. GAO is recommending that DOD specify how it will communicate its critical programs and technologies list, develop metrics to assess protection measures, and select the DOD organization that will oversee protection efforts beyond 2020. DOD concurred with the first recommendation and partially concurred with the second and third. GAO maintains the importance of all recommendations in this report. For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
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  • VA Police: Actions Needed to Improve Data Completeness and Accuracy on Use of Force Incidents at Medical Centers
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) policy on use of force states that police officers must use the minimal level of force that is reasonably necessary to gain control of a situation and should only utilize physical control methods on an individual when the force is justified by the individual's actions. To guide officers, VA developed a Use of Force Continuum Scale to define and clarify the categories of force that can be used. Categories of Force on the VA’s Use of Force Continuum Scale According to VA policy, all police officers must receive training on the VA's use of force policy when hired and biannually thereafter. Officers are trained—through classroom lectures and scenarios that emphasize effective communication techniques—to use the minimal level of force to deescalate a situation. Officers record use of force incidents electronically and the chief of police decides which, if any, use of force incidents need to be investigated in accordance with VA guidance. Chiefs of Police at the six facilities GAO visited conducted investigations in a similar manner, by reviewing evidence and comparing an officer's action with the VA's use of force policy to determine whether actions were justified. While most investigations are conducted at the local level, VA headquarters may also run investigations for certain incidents, such as when it receives a complaint against an officer. VA police officers record incidents in a database, Report Executive, but GAO's analysis indicates that VA data on use of force incidents are not sufficiently complete and accurate for reporting numbers or trends at medical centers nationwide. For example, GAO found that 176 out of 1,214 use of force incident reports did not include the specific type of force used. Further, Report Executive does not track incidents by individual medical centers. By addressing these limitations, VA can more effectively monitor use of force trends by type of force or medical facility, among other variables, to understand the VA's use of force incidents nationwide. GAO also found that VA does not systematically collect or analyze use of force investigation findings from local medical centers, limiting its ability to provide effective oversight. Specifically, there is no policy requiring Chiefs of Police to submit all investigations on use of force to VA headquarters, and VA does not have a database designed to collect and analyze data on use of force investigations. Collecting and analyzing such data nationwide would allow VA to better assess the impact of its deescalation policies and improve the agency's oversight efforts. About 5,000 VA police officers are responsible for securing and protecting 138 VA medical centers across the country. These officers are authorized to investigate crimes, make arrests, and carry firearms. The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 included a provision that GAO assess aspects of the VA police services. This report addresses (1) what the VA's policies are on the use of force by police officers at medical centers, and what training officers receive on the use of force; (2) how VA records and investigates use of force incidents at medical centers; and (3) the extent to which VA sufficiently collects and analyzes use of force data at medical centers. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed VA policies, procedures, and training materials on the use of force and interviewed VA officials at headquarters and six local medical centers, selected to represent varying size and locations. GAO reviewed VA data on use of force incidents recorded from May 10, 2019, through May 10, 2020—the most recent full year data were available. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VA improve the completeness and accuracy of its use of force data; implement a tool to analyze use of force incidents at medical centers nationwide; ensure that medical centers submit all use of force investigations to VA headquarters; and analyze the use of force investigation data. The VA concurred with each of GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or goodwing@gao.gov.
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  • Riverside, California Man Who Admitted Planning Mass Casualty Attacks and Purchasing Firearms Later Used in 2015 Terrorist Attack in San Bernardino Ordered to Serve 20-Year Federal Prison Sentence
    In Crime News
    A Riverside man was sentenced today to 20 years in federal prison for conspiring to commit terrorist attacks in the Inland Empire and for providing assault rifles later used in the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack that killed 14 people.
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