Good morning, and thank you all for being here. I am joined today by Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and Director Ron Davis of the Community Oriented Policing Services Office, or COPS.
Over the past few days and weeks, we have watched as Baltimore struggled with issues that face cities across the country today. We have seen the tragic loss of a young man’s life. We have seen a peaceful protest movement coalesce to express the concern of a beleaguered community. We have seen brave officers upholding the right to peaceful protest, while also sustaining serious injury during the city’s unfortunate foray into violence. And we have watched it all through the prism of one of the most challenging issues of our time: police-community relations.
When I traveled to Baltimore earlier this week, I had an opportunity to see the significant work that the city and the police department had done with the COPS Office over the last six months through a collaborative reform process. But despite the progress being made, it was clear that recent events – including the tragic in-custody death of Freddie Gray – had given rise to a serious erosion of public trust. And in order to address this issue, I was asked – by city officials and community leaders – to augment our approach to the situation with a court enforcement model. I have spent the last few days with my team considering which of the Justice Department’s tools for police reform best meets the current needs of the Baltimore Police Department and the broader Baltimore community.
Today, the Department of Justice is opening an investigation into whether the Baltimore Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law. This investigation will begin immediately, and will focus on allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force, including deadly force; conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests; and engage in discriminatory policing. The COPS Office will continue to work with the Baltimore Police Department and the collaborative reform process will now convert to the provision of technical assistance to the Baltimore Police Department. Some may ask how this differs from our current work with the Baltimore Police Department. The answer is: rather than examining whether the police department violated good policies, we will now examine whether they violated the Constitution and the community’s civil rights. This approach has been welcomed by the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, and I want to thank them for their support and their partnership as we move forward.
In the coming days, Civil Rights Division attorneys and investigators conducting the investigation, and the police experts who will assist them, will be engaging with community members and law enforcement. We will examine policies, practices and available data. And at the conclusion of our investigation, we will issue a report of our findings. If unconstitutional policies or practices are found, we will seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues. We will also continue to move forward to improve policing in Baltimore even as the pattern or practice investigation is underway.
Our goal is to work with the community, public officials and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has conducted dozens of these pattern or practice investigations, and we have seen from our work in jurisdictions across the country that communities that have gone through this process are experiencing improved policing practices and increased trust between the police and the community. In fact, I encourage other cities to study our past recommendations and see whether they can be applied in their own communities. Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need – including training, policy guidance and equipment – to be more effective, to partner with civilians and to strengthen public safety.
For many people across the country, the tragic death of Freddie Gray and the violence that followed has come to personify the city, as if that alone is Baltimore. But earlier this week, I visited with members of the community who took to the streets in the days following the violence to pick up trash and to clear away debris – and they are Baltimore. I visited with elected officials who are determined to help the neighborhoods they love come back stronger and more united – and they are Baltimore. I visited youth leaders who believe that there’s a brighter day ahead – and they are Baltimore too. I visited with law enforcement officers who had worked 16 days without a break, and were focused not on themselves or even their own safety, but on protecting the people who live in their community. They, too, are Baltimore.
I have no illusions that reform will be easy; the challenges we face did not arise in a day, and change will not come overnight. It will take time and sustained effort. But the people I met in Baltimore – from protestors to public officials to an officer who had been injured amidst the violence – all said the same thing: “I love my city, and I want to make it better.” That’s why I’m so optimistic about this process. That’s why I’m so hopeful about the days to come. And that’s why I am confident that, as a result of this investigation and the hard work still ahead, all members of the Baltimore community – residents and law enforcement alike – will be able to create a stronger, safer, more united city together.
At this time, I’d like to open it up to a few questions.