New Orleans ~
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the City of New Orleans Consent Decree Press Conference
Good afternoon. I’m pleased to be here in New Orleans today, and honored to join with Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Tom Perez; United States Attorney Jim Letten, of the Eastern District of Louisiana; New Orleans Police Superintendant Ronal Serpas; and City Attorney Richard Cortizas – in announcing the latest action that our nation’s Department of Justice has taken, along with the city of New Orleans, to reduce crime and promote the highest standards of effectiveness, professionalism and integrity at every level of America’s law enforcement community.
Today, the Justice Department and the City of New Orleans filed a consent decree to ensure that local police services are delivered in a manner that is effective and complies with the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. This agreement is one of the most wide-ranging in the Department’s history, and requires the New Orleans Police Department to implement and sustain a variety of new policies and practices – related to training; the use of force; stops, searches, and arrests; sexual assault and domestic violence investigations; investigative and interrogative techniques; community policing; officer supervision; officer recruitment; officer assistance; and more – in order to address and remedy a range of unfair and illegal practices uncovered by a sweeping Justice Department investigation.
In many of these areas – thanks to the leadership of Mayor Landrieu, Superintendent Serpas, and other City officials – I’m pleased to report that meaningful progress has already been made. Mayor Landrieu and Chief Serpas did not wait for our findings to begin the reform process.
Once approved by the U.S. District Court and fully implemented by the City, this consent decree will allow us to move forward – together – and will enable the people of New Orleans to have, in the words of Mayor Landrieu, “a world-class police department.” It also will resolve the government’s allegations that the New Orleans Police engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that was both discriminatory and unconstitutional, and that too often undermined the public’s trust and the City’s efforts to effectively prevent crime.
I’d particularly like to recognize the Justice Department attorneys whose tireless efforts have made today’s announcement possible. Over two years ago, an outstanding team from the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section – under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin – initiated what would become one of the most extensive investigations of a law enforcement agency ever conducted by the Division. Working closely with police professionals, experts, and numerous other Department components, our investigative group spent nearly a year gathering critical evidence – interviewing city, state, and local officials; conducting a comprehensive review of internal documents and other essential information; and meeting with key stakeholders, including numerous community groups and dozens of members of the New Orleans Police Department. This consent decree belongs to the entire community, and includes ideas that were brought to us by community members, front line officers, and experts alike.
As a result of the cooperation of the City and the Police Department – and the depth of understanding they demonstrated in decisively responding to the problems that were uncovered – we were able to complete our investigation in record time and immediately start the process of creating a blueprint for comprehensive reform – which will respond to officer and community concerns, correct troubling practices, protect the rights of New Orleans citizens, restore public trust, and ensure public safety.
There can be no question that today’s action represents a critical step forward. It reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to fair and vigorous law enforcement at every level. It underscores our determination to work alongside federal, state, local, and tribal authorities to protect not only the safety – but the essential civil rights – of everyone in this country. And, although it’s clear that there can be no one-size-fits-all prescription for police department reform, it’s my hope that the common-sense steps contained in this consent decree will serve as a reference point – and a potential model for success – in our future efforts.
I believe we can all be proud of this outcome – and I want to thank the many support staff members, investigators, and attorneys who have been involved in this case for over two years – and whose efforts have helped make this result a reality. I’d like to acknowledge our strong partnership with Mayor Landrieu, Superintendant Serpas, City Attorney Cortizas, and their team of negotiators. I’d also like to recognize the brave men and women of the NOPD – who have served this City through incredibly challenging times, and who – through this agreement – will gain the tools, training, and critical support they need. The reforms that are already underway, and will flow from this decree, will make your job not only easier – but more rewarding.
Let me be clear—the problems we have identified were many years in the making and preceded this current Administration. They are wide-ranging and deeply-rooted. Sustainable reform will not occur overnight – but we can all be encouraged that it is already happening here thanks to the leadership of Mayor Landrieu, Chief Serpas, and so many others. Though the concerns that we address today did not begin on Mayor Landrieu’s watch, with hard work, patience and community determination they can end on it.
And, now, I’d like to turn things over to a key partner in this reform effort and an esteemed colleague – Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez.