~ Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, U.S. Attorney [Joyce] Vance, for that kind introduction; for your lifelong commitment to public service; and for your exceptional work on behalf of the people of this community. It’s a privilege to join so many law enforcement officers, student and faith leaders, and community officials as we take this opportunity to discuss the critical work underway here in Birmingham and in cities across the country. I’d like to thank Chief of Police [A.C.] Roper for welcoming me to Birmingham and for his exemplary leadership of the Birmingham Police Department. I’d also like to thank Priscilla Cooper, President of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, for hosting us this afternoon and for the wonderful tour of the institute. And I’d like to thank everyone who helped make today’s event possible.
As you all know, our country has recently witnessed a series of deeply distressing events in cities experiencing a breakdown in trust between law enforcement officers and the citizens we serve. Each new tragedy has weighed heavily on our hearts and put a spotlight on deeply-rooted issues we are still confronting as a nation. That spotlight has in some ways helped us make progress. Important conversations have begun within our communities and across our nation and groups that have felt marginalized are standing up and speaking out as never before. These are important developments. But in order to keep healing the rifts that divide us, we must continue to work together, to be constructive and assume good faith on all sides and to seek out new ideas and fresh approaches.
Restoring essential trust where it has eroded is one of my top priorities as Attorney General and I want you all to know that the Department of Justice will do everything we can to help. That’s why I am convening roundtable discussions like this one – beginning last month in Cincinnati and continuing in the coming weeks in East Haven, Connecticut; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Seattle, Washington; and Richmond, California. Through conversations like this one, I want to highlight the innovative ways you all are strengthening police-community relations and to think about how the steps you’re taking can be translated into other jurisdictions. I am hopeful that these vital conversations will help guide the transformative change we would all like to see nationwide.
I’m here in Birmingham because this city’s law enforcement and elected leaders understand that progress requires us to work closely together – across issues, across backgrounds and across neighborhoods – to make sure the entire community thrives. From the police department’s citizen’s police academy – which gives individuals from all walks of life a close-up view of police work and a deeper appreciation for its challenges – to the city’s demonstrated interest in using new technology to promote accountability and trust – Birmingham’s leaders have shown unwavering dedication to community-oriented policies that advance public safety, reduce crime and foster mutual trust and respect. I’m also here in Birmingham because this community understands the need for commitment, engagement and ongoing communication with police and government on these important issues. You have taken advantage of your unique history and used it to come together on this and so many other important issues.
The Department of Justice is committed to supporting you and your work at every step, which is why I am pleased that Birmingham is one of six pilot sites for the national initiative for building community trust and justice. The initiative is a long-term effort to foster lasting ties and enduring trust between law enforcement officials and the citizens they serve. By focusing on three core concepts – advancing procedural justice, reducing implicit bias and supporting reconciliation – the initiative is intended to strengthen community policing, ensure that people are treated fairly and put longstanding tensions and misconceptions finally to rest. In Birmingham and our other pilot sites, we will work with local leaders to develop an overall plan for progress, as well as specific strategies tailored to each city’s needs. We will lend guidance to help pilot sites implement data-driven methods to evaluate their success. And we will use the results in each pilot city to identify and define best practices that will steer efforts nationwide for years to come.
This is vitally important work. You know from your own experience that when police and residents share strong, reliable and resilient relationships, residents are more likely to help with investigations and police will more often hear from victims and witnesses of crime. And when officers receive the tools, training and support they need, they are better able to serve their neighbors and constituents safely and effectively. With the bold steps you are taking in Birmingham to realize those goals, you have put yourselves at the leading edge of what it will take to keep the American people safe in the 21st century.
I want you to know that the Department of Justice – and the entire Obama Administration – will stay engaged on these issues and stand alongside you not just now, but for the long term. We know how much work is ahead of us. We understand we face difficult challenges. I have no illusions that these issues will be solved overnight. But from what I have seen and heard in my visit today, I am confident that this city will provide a shining example of what we can achieve when dedicated public servants, passionate community members and devoted law enforcement officers come together to create the stronger, safer, more united community that all Americans deserve. I look forward to working with you in the days and months ahead and I want to thank you all, once again, for your partnership, your leadership and your justly renowned hospitality.