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Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez Speaks at the Miami Police Department Investigation Announcement
Miami ~ Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thank you.  It is an honor to be here today with United States Attorney Willy Ferrer.   Civil rights enforcement, here and across the country, is a joint venture between the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office.  

 

Today, I met with the Mayor, Acting Police Chief and City Manager to notify them of our civil investigation into allegations involving the use of excessive deadly force by officers with the City of Miami Police Department (MPD), pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 USC § 14141. Under this authority, the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section regularly investigates allegations involving police departments around the country to determine whether there is a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that violates the Constitution or federal law.   These are civil investigations in which we look at systemic issues.   We are not looking at individual accountability of a particular individual.   Rather, we are looking more broadly at whether there are systemic deficiencies that result in patterns or practices of unlawful conduct.

 

In the past 16 months, we have seen nine police involved shootings that are of concern and are the premise of our investigation.   Since July 2010, MPD officers shot and killed eight young men and critically wounded a ninth man.  By comparison, the country’s largest police force, the New York City Police Department had one fatal shooting for every 4,313 officers in 2010, while Miami had one fatal shooting for every 220 officers. Washington D.C., with a larger population and police force, had no fatal shootings by police in 2010, compared to five by the Miami Police Department.

 

Of the shootings since July 2010 until the last shooting in February 2011, all but one occurred within the proximate neighborhoods of Little Haiti, Overtown, and Liberty City, in northeast Miami.   In two of the shootings, the subject was unarmed.   Six out of the eight fatal shootings were by MPD officers in specialized units like the gang unit, SWAT, tactical robbery unit, and the canine unit.  Most of these matters are being evaluated separately with regard to potential criminal liability by the state or by the Justice Department.

 

The division, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, opened a preliminary investigation in March 2011 immediately following the last shooting in February 2011 and after a meeting with community leaders here in Miami. The scope of our review is very surgical and specific.   We are examining policies and practices surrounding use of deadly force by Miami police officers to determine whether there is a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.   We will speak with a wide array of stakeholders, including officers in the Department, police leadership, political leadership, and community members.   We retain experts in police practices, and will review documents from the Department.   The Mayor and the Acting Chief have pledged their full support and cooperation in our investigation.   At the conclusion of our investigation, U.S. Attorney Ferrer and I will release a thorough assessment of our findings, and if we conclude there are violations of the Constitution or federal law, we will inform the city of Miami and attempt to work with their leadership to remedy any violations.   In addition, we will give real time feedback and offer technical assistance as we find issues.  We never wait until the end of an investigation to offer suggestions for reform.    If we find no constitutional violations, we will close the investigation.

 

Community policing is critical in order to ensure that the people of Miami can trust their police department. The hallmark of a well functioning democracy and a vibrant community is an effective, accountable police department.   Our police reform practice has expanded dramatically in recent years.   We have more underway than any time in the Division’s history.   We conduct a thorough, independent review.   We work collaboratively with a wide array of stakeholders to diagnose problems, and devise comprehensive solutions that are designed to reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution, and enhance public confidence in law enforcement.   Our work is not a gotcha exercise.   Our goal is not to fix the blame; rather, our goal is to fix any problems we may identify in a comprehensive fashion.  

 

We have the greatest respect for the members of the MPD who work tirelessly to protect the city of Miami, and we look forward to hearing directly from them. We are equally interested in learning from the community; that is why we have a hotline and email address in order for the public to voice their comments or concerns.   That hotline is 1-877-218-5228 and the email is community.miamipd@usdoj.gov .   Our attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office, along with staff and experts in policing practices will provide other outlets for community involvement in this process as well.

 

I am frequently asked:   how long will the investigation take?   When will you be done?   I cannot provide a precise timetable.   We will follow every logical lead, speak to all interested stakeholders, conduct a thorough review of relevant policies; in short, we will follow the evidence wherever it leads us.  

 

We look forward to the City’s and the Police Department’s cooperation as the department conducts its independent investigation, and hope to work collaboratively to forge comprehensive solutions to any problems that we may find.

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