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Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Civil Rights Division Speaks at the Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau Press Conference
Portland, Ore. ~ Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thank you, Dwight, for being a great leader and partner in helping us enforce our nation’s civil rights laws here in Oregon.   Thank you, Mayor Adams, for your cooperation as we begin this process.   I also want to thank Chief Reese.   We look forward to working with you and the entire Portland Police Bureau.  

 

Effective, accountable policing is critical for any healthy community, and we are here today because we all share the goal of ensuring that the PPB is the best law enforcement agency that it can be.

 

Recently, the Justice Department has conducted a preliminary review of the Portland Police Bureau. The Civil Rights Division, in partnership with U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton, has reviewed the facts and determined that allegations regarding excessive force, particularly recent incidents between the PPB and people with mental illness, warrant further review, under our civil pattern or practice authority.  

 

In the past 18 months, there was a significant increase in officer involved shootings, and the majority involved persons with mental health issues. We have completed the review, for instance, of the shooting of Aaron Campbell and determined that it does not constitute a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights laws. We met with the family of Mr. Campbell on Monday to notify them of our findings.   While our criminal review has concluded for this particular matter, our broader, civil review has led me to authorize a full investigation focusing on the excessive force issues under DOJ’s pattern or practice authority under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

 

The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section conducts civil pattern or practice investigations to determine whether there are systemic problems in a police department’s practices and procedures that are resulting in the violation of people’s basic rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States.

 

Over the last 15 years, the Division has brought in teams of seasoned attorneys, staff and law enforcement experts to work collaboratively with police departments and communities across the country to address systemic problems and identify and implement comprehensive solutions that accomplish three goals: 1) reduce crime, 2) protect the rule of law, and 3) enhance public confidence in law enforcement.   

 

U.S. Attorney Holton and I have put together a top notch team of lawyers and staff for this investigation.   We are retaining experts in policing and mental health and will be reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders, including people within the PPB, people elsewhere within Portland’s administration, key stakeholders in the criminal justice system, and the community at large.   

 

Our investigation will be thorough, fair, independent, and it will also be collaborative.   We will be engaging a wide array of community stakeholders.   I appreciate the cooperation of the Mayor and the chief, and look forward to learning from the police department and community stakeholders.

 

Our experience working with local police departments has been that the results are most effective and sustainable when we work together with the Department and the entire community.   This was the case in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and elsewhere, and we are currently continuing this work in places like New Orleans, Seattle and Newark.  

 

Throughout this process, we will provide real time feedback to the Department, so that if there is a good idea that can be implemented immediately, PPB has the opportunity to do so.   Our lines of communication will be open; our goal is to fix problems, not fix the blame, and we view the Mayor’s office, the City Commissioners, the PPB and the community as partners in this important effort. Members of the public can contact us by email at Community.portland@usdoj.gov   or by phone at 1-877-218-5228.

 

At the conclusion of our careful review, U.S. Attorney Holton and I will provide you with a thorough and independent assessment of our findings.   We have come to no conclusions at this time; rather, we will follow the facts where they lead us.   If we identify problems, we will work collaboratively with all stakeholders to develop a blueprint for sustainable reform.  

 

I’d like to note that, in a separate matter, we also have an investigation underway into whether persons with mental illness are being served in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. As I said, this investigation is separate from our investigation of the PPB, but the two are interrelated. An inadequate community health infrastructure that does not ensure individuals with mental illness can receive services in their communities puts the community at risk and puts the police department at risk.  

 

We have the greatest respect for the members of the PPB, and all law enforcement officials, who work tirelessly to protect this city. I have great optimism that, working together, we can ensure that the PPB is providing the citizens of Portland with the services and protection they deserve.

 

We look forward to the PPB’s cooperation as the Civil Rights Division conducts its independent investigation, and hope to work collaboratively to forge comprehensive solutions to any problems that we may find.   

 

I would now like to turn it over to Mayor Adams.

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