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Like so many of you, I have closely watched the events in Minnesota. Although the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death. My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss.
I know such wounds have deep roots, and that too many communities have experienced those wounds firsthand. Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.
Today, I am announcing that the Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.
This effort will be staffed by experienced attorneys and other personnel from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota.
The new civil investigation is separate from and independent of the federal criminal investigation into the death of George Floyd that the Justice Department has previously announced.
Congress gave the department the authority to conduct civil pattern-or-practice investigations, which look beyond individual incidents to assess systemic failures.
Those investigations allow the department to determine whether a police department has a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.
The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests.
The investigation will also assess whether the MPD engages in discriminatory conduct and whether its treatment of those with behavioral health disabilities is unlawful.
It will include a comprehensive review of the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies, training, supervision, and use-of-force investigations.
It will assess the effectiveness of the MPD’s current systems of accountability, and whether other mechanisms are needed to ensure constitutional and lawful policing.
Broad participation in this investigation, from the community and from law enforcement, will be vital to its success.
The Justice Department has already begun to reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with the MPD. We also seek to hear from the department’s officers about the training and support they receive because their perspective is essential.
All these voices will help provide investigators the information they need to conduct a comprehensive assessment. All these voices will be critical to the reform efforts that will follow if the investigation determines the existence of constitutional or statutory violations.
If the Justice Department concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing, we will issue a public report of our conclusions.
The Justice Department also has the authority to bring a civil lawsuit, asking a federal court to provide injunctive relief that orders the MPD to change its policies and practices to avoid further violations.
Usually, when the Justice Department finds unlawful patterns or practices, the local police department enters into a settlement agreement or a consent decree to ensure that prompt and effective action is taken to align policing practices with the law.
Most of our nation’s law enforcement officers do their difficult jobs honorably and lawfully.
I strongly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices. Good officers welcome accountability because accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community, and public safety requires public trust.
I have been involved in the legal system, in one way or another, for most of my adult life. I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes never comes. The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law.
The challenges we face are deeply woven into our history – they did not arise today or last year.
Building trust between the community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.