Justice News

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Kappelhoff Delivers Remarks at Office of Justice Programs' Diagnostic Center Announcement
Minneapolis, MN
United States
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction.  Good afternoon, it’s a pleasure to participate in today’s event.  And it’s great to be back in my home town of Minneapolis.  My name is Mark Kappelhoff.  I’m a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

I want to start by acknowledging the senseless attack on two police officers in the nearby town of New Hope.  As a Minnesotan myself, and as a representative of the Department of Justice, my heart goes out to these officers and their family members.  They confronted every family’s worst nightmare two nights ago, something no family should ever experience.  Fortunately, the officers survived the shooting and are recovering at the hospital.  My thoughts are with them and their families as they recover from their injuries.

I am proud to be here with my colleagues from the Office of Justice Programs, which is spearheading this critical and timely initiative designed to ensure strong relationships between law enforcement and the communities it serves. 

Let me begin by applauding Chief [Janeé] Harteau for her leadership, and thank her and her command staff for their foresight in requesting this evaluation and committing to implement its recommendations.  The commitment of the chief and the department are absolutely critical to any effort to systemic reform, and this community has it.

The work that the Minneapolis Police Department and the Diagnostic Center have embarked on fits squarely into the goals of community safety, officer safety and criminal justice reform that the Civil Rights Division—and indeed, the Attorney General—have made a top priority.  And we are particularly encouraged by the fact that the department proactively invited OJP to examine their policies and practices to identify ways to improve their policing practices.

Driven in part by recent events, the American public has been engaged in an important national dialogue about police practices, community-police trust, officer safety, public safety and racial justice.  Yet, as you are all well aware, these conversations are not new.  They are the latest stage in a decades-long conversation about fairness, equal treatment and the pursuit of justice.  Evaluating the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve—particularly communities of color—is a key part of that dialogue. 

Let me be clear: the overwhelming majority of the women and men who serve as police officers do their very difficult and sometimes very dangerous job with honor, pride and distinction.  We owe a debt of gratitude to the brave law enforcement officers who dedicate their lives to protecting us.  And we must recognize that like community leaders, officers too feel a sense of urgency at the moment to rebuild trust and mutual respect.

At the Civil Rights Division, a major role that we play in this effort is in ensuring that policing is done in accordance with the Constitution.  Through this work, we seek improve both public safety and officer safety by correcting unconstitutional policing practices.  We investigate police departments, often at the invitation of local officials, and can sue to remedy constitutional violations such as excessive force and racial profiling.  Since 2009 alone, we have opened more than 20 investigations of state and local law enforcement agencies regarding allegation of patterns or practices that violate federal law.  We are currently enforcing 15 agreements with law enforcement agencies — including eight consent decrees — to correct unconstitutional policing practices.  Reform is underway in cities across the country.

In looking back on the 20 years we have been doing this work—and in particular the last six years of intense activity—we have learned something about what actually works.  I want to share with you a few of our takeaways.

  • First, transparency: we have seen that the more communities know, the more they can influence operations to reflect community values and priorities.  Transparency ensures that the public has a complete picture of the department and that controversial incidents are not the only basis for perceptions about the effectiveness of police services.  It builds trust in the community and enhances the public’s perception of the legitimacy of law enforcement.

  • Second, accountability: police departments grow stronger when they adopt a culture of self-examination and become “learning organizations.”  Internal accountability measures must be fair and consistent in their application to officers engaging in misconduct.

  • Third, officer empowerment: individual officers must be given the tools to do their jobs consistent with community values.  We cannot call upon officers to do the complex, challenging work of policing in a modern world without giving them the support, training and systems they need and deserve to serve their communities and promote public safety.

In adopting an early intervention system and implementing the other recommendations from the Diagnostic Center, MPD is committing to promoting transparency and public engagement, to institutionalizing accountability and to doing so in a way will benefit officers and help them do their jobs better. 

In our experience, the data collection and sustained self-assessment required by early intervention systems help departments see and fix problems such as excessive force and biased policing that tear at the fabric of police-community trust.  Early intervention systems help departments identify officers who need additional support, as well as department-wide practices that must be corrected.  And that process ultimately makes officers safer and makes the community safer.

For exactly these reasons, implementation of an early intervention system is a remedy the Civil Rights Division routinely requires in our reform agreements.  In inviting this review in 2013 and now implementing its recommendations, MPD has the opportunity to serve as a model for departments across the country. 

But, for that to happen, all parts of this community must commit to improving relations and promoting public safety.  Successful police reform is a two-way street.  Yes, law enforcement must commit itself to systemic change.  But members of the community must also dedicate themselves to the hard work of rebuilding and fostering strong relationships between the police and the community.  This process will succeed only if you all accept the challenge of working together and invest your time and energy into reform.  Given the demonstrated commitment expressed during today’s event, this effort is clearly underway.

The lesson of our work in the Civil Rights Division has been that police accountability and criminal justice reform are not merely aspirational, but achievable goals.  It is clear that the people of Minneapolis understand that.  I applaud the department and the community on their leadership and commitment to implementing sustainable solutions that will lead to increased public safety and officer safety.

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Updated May 17, 2016