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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Roundtable on State and Local Law Enforcement
Police Pattern and Practice Program
Monday, June 21, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, Ellen. Good morning everyone. I want to welcome all of you to the Office of Justice Programs. It's great to see so many familiar faces, and I'm delighted to be joined by my good friend Tom Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division; Leon Rodriguez and Roy Austin, Tom's Deputy Assistant Attorneys General; Barney Melekian, Director of the COPS Office; and Chris Stone from Harvard's Kennedy School.

       Before we begin, I just want to take a minute to thank Ellen - along with the Civil Rights Division staff - for reviving this effort. As most of you know, Ellen played a leadership role in the COPS Office a decade ago when the Department was working so hard on this issue. She was really one of "the people" in the Department, particularly in the area of racially-biased policing. I can't tell her how happy I am to have her in OJP. And I'm so pleased to be working with Tom and his great staff in Civil Rights. This is a true partnership, and I know it will prove to be a productive one.

       And let me also thank all of you - for being here today, for your interest, and for helping to guide us. As much as anything we do in the Department, this issue is one that hinges I think so much on our relationship with the field - and by "field," I mean practitioners, researchers, and policymakers.

       The challenges around patterns and practices are such tough ones for state and local law enforcement to balance. And it's a challenge on the federal level, as well. How do we make sure our state and local partners feel supported when we're working to protect the individual rights of citizens? These two goals are definitely compatible, of course - we have examples right here in this room to prove it - but it's not nearly as cut-and-dried as some people think it is. We'll be talking today about some of things that make this issue so complex and how we can address them.

       In the Department, we're working hard to strike the right balance - to make sure state and local law enforcement get the support they need while at the same time fulfilling our civil rights responsibilities. This is something that leadership throughout the Department takes very seriously. And I'll just share this by way of illustration:

       One day recently, I was running late for a meeting with my immediate boss, the Associate Attorney General, Tom Perrelli - who you'll hear from this afternoon. I had been meeting with the Attorney General, and I ran breathlessly into the room and apologized - to which Tom replied, "That's okay, Laurie. I know that, whenever you and Tom Perez are meeting with Eric Holder, your meetings will always run late."

       He went on to say, "there are some things that the Attorney General has to meet on, but civil rights and supporting state and local law enforcement are two issues he truly cares about. They're his legacy issues."

       I'm somebody who thinks we should look back on history to find answers to important questions like the ones we'll be talking about today. Our work in the Department on patterns and practices goes back a number of years. I was here in 1999 when we worked with the Civil Rights Division and the COPS Office, and we held a meeting like this to discuss ways to strengthen police-community relationships. Out of that meeting came the Principles for Promoting Police Integrity, which I think has been a useful guide to building trust with communities.

       I also believe that we've learned a lot from research. There are people like Tom Tyler, who's done groundbreaking work in the area of "procedural justice" - this idea that the way law enforcement interacts with citizens makes a big difference in gaining compliance with the law. Research like Dr. Tyler's isn't something that will necessarily find its way into a consent decree - at least not directly - but it can - and should - inform our decisions about how we approach pattern and practice strategies.

       In addition to research, we now of course have the benefit of experience from L.A., Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and other cities. And we can draw on what we've learned. It's good to see police chiefs who've successfully managed their departments under consent decrees and MOUs who can now inform the process. This was something we didn't have back in the 90s.

       So, our objective here is to take all the knowledge and experience that we've gained over the years and to translate it into strategies for the future. I know this will be a thoughtful and lively discussion, and I'm looking forward to being part of it.

       So let's get going. I'm very pleased to introduce my longtime friend, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. Tom has worked closely with the Attorney General to restore and strengthen the Civil Rights Division. He spent many years as an attorney in the Division, where he prosecuted a number of high-profile civil rights cases.

       He also served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Division under Janet Reno and directed the Office for Civil Rights at HHS. He's served as Special Counsel to the late Senator Ted Kennedy and was his advisor on civil rights.

       In this position, Tom has made Pattern and Practice a central focus of his agenda, and so the work we're doing here today - and going forward - is due in great part to his leadership. Please welcome Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. . . .

       Thanks, Tom. Next, I'm so pleased that we have one of my very favorite colleagues at Justice - the Director of our COPS Office, Barney Melekian.

       It has been such a treat to work alongside Barney since he came here last fall, and he and I have become close partners since he took arrived in October.

       Barney was Police Chief for the City of Pasadena for more than 13 years before joining COPS, and he served in the Santa Monica P.D. for 23 years before that. He won the Medal of Valor in 1978 and the Medal of Courage two years later.

       In the months he's been at COPS, Barney's moved to address some of the issues that fall in the pattern and practice arena. In fact, he started a series of forums on emerging issues, and the first was on procedural justice. So he shares my interest in focusing on fair treatment and legitimacy questions.

       I'm glad that he could join us today. Please welcome Barney Melekian. . . .

       Thank you, Barney. Now I'm going to turn things over to our moderator, Chris Stone. Chris is Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard. He's done extensive empirical research in criminal justice both here and abroad. He received the Order of the British Empire for his work in the U.K. He's been a close partner of ours through the Harvard Executive Session on Policing.

       I also have to add here that he served for many years - where I first knew him - as President and Executive Director of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, where he made stellar contributions. And while at Vera, the Department turned to Chris back in the 90s to moderate a series of meetings on improving police-community relations.

       You'll all be in very capable hands with Chris. Ladies and gentlemen - Chris Stone. . . .

       I'm so thrilled the Attorney General was able to join us this morning. He's not going to be able to stick around, but he did want to come by to say a few words. And I think it's a sign of just how important this issue is to him - he does have a few things on his plate these days - that he'd make a special effort to be here.

       One of his highest priorities has been to restore the Department's civil rights mission, which he's been able to do thanks to a visionary Assistant Attorney General, Tom Perez. This has been a goal from the moment Eric Holder took office. He said at his swearing-in ceremony that, quote, "It is time once again to base our actions on policies that are rooted in fairness and in a desire to ensure a more just America." Our work here is critical to that.

       He's also moved vigorously to restore the Department's links to state and local law enforcement. A key goal for Eric Holder in returning to the Department of Justice was to re-establish our relationship with our partners on the front lines. In the spring of 2009, just weeks after taking office, he hosted a law enforcement summit to identify key priorities and to explore the lessons we've learned from the field.

       We've been applying those lessons through programs in my agency and the COPS Office, and throughout the Department. Our discussions today are an extension of that commitment.

       So please join me in welcoming the Attorney General.

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