REMARKS

ERIC H. HOLDER, JR.

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL

FBI NATIONAL ACADEMY ASSOCIATES FBINAA

Chicago, IL

July 24, 1999

"The Challenge to Improve Community/Law Enforcement Relations"



Good morning. Thank you, Special Agent in Charge (SAC), McChesney [Kathleen] for your kind introduction and for the remarkable work you are doing through the National Academy to strengthen the Bureau's support of state and local law enforcement. I also want to thank Special Agent Sharon Slattery for inviting me here to speak with you today and for her impressive leadership coordinating the National Academy's extraordinary training program.

It is truly an honor to appear before the Illinois members of the National Academy. You represent the elite of state and local law enforcement, having attained a status in the field that fewer than 1% of your colleagues will ever realize. Your combined level of experience and achievement is exemplary and I commend your hard work, dedication, and commitment. On behalf of the Justice Department, I thank you for your exceptional service.

This morning I would like to talk with you about a critical challenge state and local law enforcement now face: improving community/law enforcement relations. At the close of this decade, we find ourselves at a crossroads where three distinct law enforcement trends intersect. The three converging trends present us with a unique opportunity to make significant strides in improving the relationship between our nation's officers and agents and the citizens they serve.

The first trend is good news: crime rates are falling. In fact, crime has decreased for the last seven years in a row in virtually every category. And in the vast majority of instances, the law enforcement officers responsible for this reduction in crime have performed their duties in a professional, ethical, impartial manner, free from bias and abuse. We should be proud of these statistics and the dedicated men and women whose hard work produced these results. But statistics don't tell the whole story.

Notwithstanding this success, there is a second, disturbing trend: law enforcement officers are facing increased scrutiny from the citizens they serve, and we are seeing dissatisfaction mount among some community groups. Citizens are voicing their disappointment in their public servants, and calling for the recognition and reform of objectionable police practices. Allegations of police misconduct, insensitivity, and alleged abuse are front page news. For too many people, the trust that is so essential to effective policing does not exist because residents believe police use excessive force, and that law enforcement is biased, disrespectful, and unfair.

Trust is lowest among minority groups, especially in low income neighborhoods where police services are needed most. Minority group representatives are questioning whether our success in reducing crime has been due, in part, to overly aggressive police officers who ignore the civil liberties of the citizens they serve. A recent Justice Department report, surveying citizens' perception of crime and policing in 12 American cities, is particularly telling. While the report showed that 85% of the residents surveyed thought their police officers were doing a good job, 24% of African Americans and 22% of other people of color expressed dissatisfaction. The dissatisfaction with the police in the African American Community was approximately twice that of the white community. This disparity is serious and must be reversed. It is an unacceptable gap that points to the hard work ahead of us.

Finally, the third trend: over the past few years we have seen a remarkable change in our nation's approach to policing. Most important, we have seen a shift toward community policing. As you in Illinois know so well, community policing provides a powerful tool to help bridge the divide between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. Many communities throughout the country are following Illinois' example, and police officers and citizens are working together to prevent crime. Officers are reaching out to young people and the elderly to build understanding and trust; citizens and officers are working together to identify police priorities; and officers are investing more time working directly with citizens -- all with the aim of making our neighborhoods safer places to live. These efforts, no doubt, have contributed to the decrease in crime rates. Community policing also has changed law enforcement attitudes. A recent report from St. Petersburg, Florida found that 98% of officers agreed that assisting citizens is as important as enforcing the law. This is real progress.

What do these three trends tell us? They show us that while crime is falling, and some citizens' criticisms are rising, a host of new tools have begun to emerge that can make policing more effective and help restore trust between law enforcement and the public. Now, as these three trends intersect, I believe we are presented with a rare opportunity, at a unique time, to make real progress in improving community/law enforcement relations.

Today, I would like to take a few minutes to talk with you about some steps the Justice Department is taking to reform and rebuild law enforcement's relationship with the public we serve. Then, for the remainder of the hour, I would like to hear from you, some of our nations top law enforcement leaders, and ask for your thoughts on how we can further strengthen the bonds of trust within our communities.

We begin with the big picture. Across the county, there are nearly 700,000 law enforcement officers. The overwhelming majority are hard-working public servants who do a dangerous job justly, fairly, with excellence, and with honor. They put their lives on the line every day in the pursuit of justice and public safety, and they do that because they care about the people they are committed to serving.

However, at the same time, there are places where distrust and tensions are high - too high - on both sides. For too many people in America, especially those in minority communities, trust in police is eroding as allegations of police misconduct and excessive use of force rise. The concern has escalated following the Abner Louima beating and the shooting death of Amadou Diallo in New York. Racial profiling and other discriminatory practices sow additional seeds of suspicion and further exacerbate the tensions that exist between the minority community and law enforcement.

When minority communities, in the wake of a shooting, immediately assume the police officer, not the suspect, is at fault, we all suffer. The tensions that arise between the police and minority residents have serious consequences both in terms of effective policing and community unrest. When citizens do not trust their local police officers, they are less willing to report crime, less likely to cooperate in investigations, and less likely to serve as unbiased jurors in criminal cases. In an environment of mistrust, jurors are less willing to accept as truthful the testimony of officers. As hostility mounts, the recruitment of officers from minority communities becomes more difficult, and community members become even more disenfranchised.

With each breach of trust, the police and the public grow more tense with each encounter. Young people, distrustful of the police, become less cooperative and avoid, or even obstruct, the police. Patrolling officers may grow more wary, even fearful. As a result, police officers are more likely to assume a defensive posture and react with more force than necessary. Suddenly, a routine encounter can become a deadly clash.

We as a society cannot tolerate officers who mistreat law-abiding citizens, or who bring their own racial bias to the job of policing. Equal justice under the law must mean the same thing in minority communities as it means in the nation as a whole, and police officers must not mistreat anyone in violation of the law.

I know that every person in this room shares these fundamental beliefs. But we face a challenge of making sure these beliefs are evidenced in our every-day actions. If we are going to move forward in policing in the 21st century, we must address our problems squarely, straight-on, with candor and directness. We must seek ways to break down the walls of suspicion that hinder trust on both sides.

Today, as we face historic challenges, we also have an historic opportunity. The challenge for law enforcement is to recognize that the problems of excessive force and racial profiling are real. Police agencies must insist on officer accountability. And when police officers or police departments engage in misconduct, the blue wall of silence must fall.

But citizens and community leaders face a similar challenge. They must recognize that the vast majority of police departments today stand ready to do the right thing. Instead of reflexively assuming the worst of law enforcement personnel, they must put themselves in the officers' shoes and understand how difficult it is to do the job of a police officer in America today.

To rebuild the necessary trust we must open the doors to dialogue. Police officers, community leaders, civil rights leaders, must come together -- not just in the moment of crisis or in the moment of concern in a community, but on an ongoing basis. Over the past several months, the Attorney General and I have met with police chiefs, union representatives, community leaders, and young people at risk. We've listened as they described the problems they face and made suggestions to help generate trust and build solid relationships. There is probably no item more important to safe neighborhoods and civil rights than this task of improving relationships and building greater trust between communities, particularly minority communities, and law enforcement.

Just a few weeks ago, at a national conference featuring the President and the Attorney General, we met with representatives of law enforcement, civil rights organizations, community groups, and experts in police practices. We looked at the way police officers do their jobs, how they handle deadly confrontations, and how they protect, and respect, the people they serve. The goal was to focus on efforts to foster police integrity and build bridges to the community. I'd like to highlight for you ten key principles that emerged from the conference and from the conversations we've been having across the county:

First: Community Partnerships. We must expand dialogue and promote partnerships that build mutual trust and confidence between police and the communities they serve. Throughout the next year, the Justice Department will hold a series of meetings between police and community organizations, focusing on better ways to work together. We will also expand the creation of citizen-police academies. These centers de-mystify the police process and help citizens understand the difficult challenges police officers face every day. The Department will also support the expansion of community policing and community prosecution efforts throughout the country. Illinois is a leader on both these fronts. As you've seen, by breaking down suspicion, and building up trust, the community-oriented police officers and community prosecutors become better peace-makers and problem-solvers in our neighborhoods and citizens grow more sensitized to the problems law enforcement officers face in their work.

Second: Policies and Practice. If we are to build citizens' trust, we must improve our policies and practices. For example, changes in policies on high-speed chases and the use of choke-holds and other restraints have made a real difference in many departments in their efforts to reduce the number of incidents in which injuries result.

Third: Training. Our training must prepare officers for everyday encounters as well as violent confrontations. Officers' language and behavior during interactions with citizens often frame citizens' reactions and their attitudes toward police. Officers must know how to interact with citizens, learn how to use alternatives to force, and understand that it is wrong to assume that race and ethnicity determine on which side of the law a person falls. Our federal training center in Georgia is working hard to develop training manuals for local police departments on eliminating racial profiling, increasing fairness in traffic stops, and improving police interactions with citizens.

Fourth: Diverse Hiring. We need to ensure that police departments recruit officers who reflect the communities they serve, who have high standards, and who are then properly trained to deal with the stresses and dangers of police work. In years past, too many departments had few, if any, minority officers. That has improved significantly. Our police force should reflect the society it serves in both gender and racial composition. We should consider for recruitment those who have lived in the communities they would serve. When someone who grows up in a neighborhood becomes an officer there, they understand the community, they understand their concerns, they know the languages spoken. They can become the men and women neighborhood youth can look up to as role modes, and are examples to these same youth that they might one day be able to serve.

The San Antonio Police Department Cadet Program provides a strong example of a diversity program that works. The Cadet Program targets for police recruits neighborhoods where citizens have lodged complaints about police practices. Police officers attend community meetings and ask community leaders to identify candidates for the Cadet Program. By reaching into the communities where tensions are on the rise, bridges to better understanding are built early and police departments can respond more effectively.

Fifth: Technology. We must use technology to build citizens' trust. For example, many civil rights and law enforcement leaders recommend that we place video cameras in police cars. In Knoxville, Tennessee, this strategy appears to have reduced complaints from citizens.

Sixth: Evaluation. We need to revise our tools for better evaluation. For example, we should make sure that we do not establish the wrong incentives for officers. Instead of evaluating officers only on the number of arrests or stops they make, or tickets they issue, we should also evaluate them on how well they are interacting with the communities they serve and how effectively they are addressing the crime problems in their neighborhoods.

Seventh: Accountability. If we want to maintain the trust and confidence of the community, we must take decisive action against those few officers who violate their oaths and deny citizens their constitutional rights through the use of excessive force or harassment. Our quest for accountability begins with the Department of Justice. We must make sure our own house is in order while recommending solutions for local law enforcement. To that end, we are conducting a self-assessment of our own use of force and civil rights processes to ensure we have procedures in place to hold federal law enforcement officers accountable to the American people.

State and local law enforcement agencies must do the same. Police chiefs and sheriffs must send a clear message that misconduct will not be tolerated and unfair treatment will not be countenanced. Police organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Police Executive Research Forum, have stated clearly that police activity that is race- or ethnic-based is neither legal, consistent with democratic ideals and principles of American policing, nor in any way legitimate and defensible as a strategy for public protection.

But this is not a responsibility of management alone. Rank and file officers must join together to promote a climate of integrity, civility, accountability, and responsibility. Every law enforcement agency should have a complaint process in place that allows people to file complaints without fear. If individuals won't file complaints, the agency will never learn of the problems it faces.

Also, every police Department should make sure that it has in place a vigorous system for investigating allegations of misconduct thoroughly and fairly. We must put processes in place that ensure due process both for officers and for citizens filing complaints. Officers must be as intolerant of misconduct by fellow officers as the citizens they serve, and they must not stand silent when they witness abuse and injustice.

In addition, we should establish early warning systems to help identify officers at risk of misconduct and in need of additional training.

Eighth, we must increase our civil rights enforcement. Most of the steps I've outlined so far are steps we can take to prevent incidents of police misconduct in the first place. But when they do occur, we must take sure action and that means prosecution when appropriate.

In addition to prosecuting individual officers, we also have the authority to sue police departments when there is a pattern of misconduct. Under this authority, known as "pattern and practice authority," we can go to court to force a police department to change the way it does business. Using this authority, we are investigating several law enforcement agencies around the county. In two instances, we negotiated agreements to implement better practices. As we pursue these pattern and practice investigations, we are also working with departments on preventive measure so we can address policy integrity issues without litigation, when possible.

Ninth: Data Collection. We must take steps to gather the data that will help define the scope of the problem, if one exists, and measure our efforts to solve it. Right now we have only anecdotes and allegations. We need more. For the past several years, under the requirements of the 1994 Crime Control Act, the Department has tried to develop ways of measuring the level of excessive force incidents. Because police departments often do not keep such records, and because they are not required to report to the federal government statistics on the use of force by officers, we have had only limited success in developing information. That is why we are trying a new approach. Every year we conduct a survey of households across the country, asking whether residents have been victims of crime. The Crime Victimization Survey is perhaps one of the most accurate reflections of law enforcement trends. This year we are updating the survey to include questions on policy misconduct. We've added questions like: "During the last year, have you had an encounter with the police in which physical force was used?" By asking these questions, we can get a better sense of the relationship people have with law enforcement and we will know whether the efforts police departments are making are succeeding.

Data collection in the area of police stops is also very important. By keeping track, by race, of who is pulled over, why they're stopped, which motorists are subject to searches, and the outcomes of the stops, we can see whether problems exist and how extensive they are. If numbers show there is no problem, the minority communities will have a better outlook on law enforcement. If numbers are disproportionate, then police departments will be able to study the issue and set out ways to reduce the discrepancy.

Finally, Tenth: Practical Guidance: As a follow-up to the Washington conference, over the next six months the Department will organize regional roundtables to explore these issues in local context and compile the best practices and policy recommendations that we have received. We will then distribute a Best Practices Monograph to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. I hope that you will join us in this effort.

The dialogues that yielded these ten principles have been extraordinary useful. But these recommendations are meaningless unless they reflect your views and priorities. And that's why we must rely on you, our local and state law enforcement leaders, to put these ideas into action.

When I was up in Boston earlier this summer, the Police Chiefs in New England presented me with a Resolution. It is now one of the more noteworthy gifts on my wall. It said, in part: "WHEREAS, the undersigned Police Chiefs recognize that bias, real or perceived, is detrimental to the relationship between police and the communities they serve and erodes the basic foundation of trust which is essential to community policing . . . and WHEREAS the undersigned Police Chiefs also recognize the important nature and necessity of traffic stops as a vital and effective law enforcement tool that saves lives, reduce injuries and other crimes[, it is] RESOLVED that the undersigned Police Chiefs, on behalf of the agencies they represent, affirm their position against biased law enforcement practices and all other types of discriminatory practices [. . . and] the undersigned Police Chiefs do not endorse, train, teach, support, or condone, any type of biased or race profiling by any law enforcement agency or individual acting under color of law." The Police Chiefs in New England further committed to continuing a dialogue with citizens in order to build trust, confidence, and respect between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

I hope we will all see the day when every state, every locality, can not only adopt a resolution, but recognize in practice, that bias, real or perceived, is detrimental to the relationship between police and community and erodes the basic foundation of trust.

Effective policing means law enforcement officers living up to a compact with the community they serve and treating every citizen with respect and dignity. You, in Illinois, have done so much to lead this effort. I hope you will all leave here today with a renewed commitment to put into place concrete steps that will reduce incidents that harm the relationship between police and community and work to strengthen that same relationship.

Thank you all for inviting me to join you today. I look forward to discussing these issues with you this morning. Now, I'd like to invite any questions you might have.