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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Danziger Bridge Indictments Press Conference


New Orleans, LA
United States

Thank you, Jim [Letten].

Today marks an important step forward in administering justice, in healing community wounds, in improving public safety, and in restoring public trust in this city’s police department.

The indictments that Jim just outlined are the result of an intensive, and ongoing, investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in the Eastern District of Louisiana. I want to applaud the great work that’s been led by Jim and by Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. And I want to thank our outstanding FBI partners, who are represented here today by Kevin Perkins.

As our investigation of the Danziger Bridge incident shows, the Justice Department will vigorously pursue anyone who allegedly violated the law. Put simply, we will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who have sworn to protect the public. We will hold offenders accountable.

But while accountability is a vital part of the reform process, it will take more than this investigation to renew the New Orleans Police Department and allow it to thrive. That is why the Justice Department is committed to using our civil statutes, technical expertise, and other tools to implement sustainable reforms and address the systemic problems that have challenged this Department. As we do so, the Justice Department will continue to include community leaders and residents in our reform efforts. This work is already underway and the Mayor and the City of New Orleans have been, and will continue to be, critical partners.

I want to recognize the outstanding leadership and partnership that Mayor Landrieu is providing. During his first days on the job, Mayor Landrieu reached out to the Justice Department to ask for our help. And in a personal letter to me, the Mayor noted – and I quote – that "the police force, the community and the citizens of New Orleans are desperate for positive change." Over the last few months, the Mayor and the New Orleans Police Department have partnered with the Justice Department to identify problems, implement reforms, and make the improvements that the people of New Orleans have demanded and that they deserve. And today, almost a month after the Mayor and I discussed our shared public safety goals during my last visit to the Gulf Coast, we are working together to build a stronger police force and a safer New Orleans and to ensure that a tragedy like the incident on Danziger Bridge never happens again.

The Civil Rights Division, with the full cooperation of local law enforcement officials, is working to determine whether there are systemic problems in the police department’s procedures – problems that have resulted or might result in the violation of Constitutional rights. Above all, we are jointly focused on identifying and implementing the reforms necessary to reduce crime, protect the rule of law, and restore public confidence in work of the New Orleans police force.

That said, it is clear that the vast majority of the law enforcement officers here in New Orleans – and all around the country – serve their communities, their departments, and their profession with honor and integrity. And we should all be encouraged that local officers have called for, and are fully cooperating with, efforts to assess current practices and improve operations.

These reform efforts work. Over the past 15 years, our Civil Rights Division experts have worked with police departments and communities across the country to address problems and implement comprehensive solutions. We’ve seen positive transformations in cities like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. And I have every expectation that similar success will be achieved here in New Orleans.

Making sure that this city’s Police Department is the best that it can be is our sacred obligation. It’s also our shared responsibility. That’s why – in addition to our work with the Mayor’s new administration, with Chief Serpas and the Police Department, and with stakeholders in the criminal justice system – we’ve created opportunities for community involvement. We look forward to hearing from community members and will be relying on your input as we continue our reform efforts.

This process is far from over. And I want leaders and residents of New Orleans to know that the Justice Department is committed to providing whatever assistance this city, its police department, and its people need. You have, and deserve, nothing less that my full and ongoing support.

Thank you all. And, now, I’d like to turn things over to Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez.

Updated March 14, 2016