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Remarks as Delivered
Three years ago, in the wake of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s tragic and brutal deaths, the nation once again turned its eyes to the state of policing in America. People across the country came together to demand action from their leaders, accountability from the police departments that protect and serve them and reforms that can ensure public safety while restoring public trust. At the heart of many of the demonstrations that unfolded in this city, and across the country, was a call for constitutional policing and respect for people’s civil rights.
People in Louisville deserve policing. They deserve policing that is constitutional, fair and non-discriminatory. Our investigation found that the police department and city government failed to adequately protect and serve the people of Louisville, breached the public’s trust and discriminated against Black people through unjustified stops, searches and arrests. The police used excessive force, subjecting people to unlawful strikes, tasings and canine bites. The police sought search warrants without justification and carried out no-knock warrants unlawfully, evading the Constitution, defying federal law and putting ordinary citizens in harm’s way. Today marks a new day and a new chapter for the people of Louisville.
For the last two years, the Justice Department has led an exhaustive investigation in Louisville to determine whether Louisville Metro Government and the Louisville police department engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violated the Constitution or federal law. We left no stone unturned.
And we found that LMPD routinely seeks search warrants for residences without establishing legal justification for invading someone’s home. Officers regularly seek warrants that are overly broad, sweeping in people who have, at most, a remote connection to the investigation, who have committed no crime, harbor no evidence and have a constitutional right to not be subject to unreasonable search and seizure.
Officers also violate the law when they act on these warrants by unjustifiably barging into people’s homes without knocking and announcing their presence. And, they often serve these warrants at night. These tactics are dangerous. Officers can be misidentified as intruders, and they may misinterpret shock and surprise as a threat. All of this puts the public at risk and officers too.
Officers also routinely conduct stops, searches and arrests without the required constitutional justification. These tools are essential to enhance public safety, but when used without restraint, they turn into weapons of oppression, submission and fear.
We found that LMPD officers use excessive and dangerous tactics, such as neck restraints, canines and tasers even against people who pose no imminent threat to the officer or others.
We also found that officers misdirect their resources and violate fundamental principles of equal justice by selectively targeting and disproportionately subjecting Black residents to unlawful policing.
LMPD disproportionately stops and cites Black drivers for minor traffic offenses. In fact, Black drivers were nearly twice as likely as white drivers to be cited for having one headlight out. Black drivers were nearly four times as likely as white drivers to be cited for improperly tinted windows, and Black drivers were nearly five times as likely as white drivers to be cited for improper tags.
LMPD also disproportionately searches Black drivers who are stopped and cited. Even when comparing traffic stops where Black and white drivers were engaged in similar behavior before the stop, Black drivers were almost 50% more likely to be searched than whites.
LMPD charges Black people at higher rates than white people for the same misdemeanor offenses. For example, LMPD charges Black people for loitering at more than four times the rate of white people, for disorderly conduct at two and half times the rate of white people, and for littering at three times the rate of white people. This pattern of racial discrimination fuels distrust and impedes the community’s confidence in the LMPD and their law enforcement operations.
LMPD’s improper activity extends beyond use of force, street enforcement and search warrants. We also found that LMPD often responds aggressively to people criticizing the police, both in routine day-to-day police encounters and during lawful demonstrations and both before and after the racial justice protests that occurred in 2020.
We saw unnecessarily aggressive behavior against people experiencing behavioral health crises.
One person, a Black man with an apparent behavioral health disability, had more than 25 encounters with LMPD in less than two years. And in some of these interactions, LMPD officers needlessly escalated the situation and used unreasonable force. At times they even mocked him. The man ultimately died in a Louisville Metro Detention Center after he had once again been arrested by LMPD. Such unnecessary escalation of encounters that could have and should have remained nonviolent was far too common.
These findings are not based on any one incident or event. They turn on evidence showing long-standing dysfunction at LMPD.
The pattern or practice of unlawful conduct compromises LMPD’s ability to serve and protect safely, constitutionally and effectively. Instead, LMPD has practiced an extreme, misdirected and counter-productive style of policing.
And, as Attorney General Garland noted, these findings give us reasonable cause to believe that Louisville Metro and LMPD engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates both the Constitution and federal law.
Together, our findings have at their core a lack of effective management, training and accountability. The Louisville Police Department can do better and will do better – better at respecting the civil rights of this community and better at working with the community to fight crime.
Our investigation was guided by a few core principles:
First, policing in America, and particularly Louisville, is complex. We know that interactions with members of the public don’t happen in a vacuum. Dynamics like racial segregation, poverty and violence all affect how officers do their jobs.
Second, being a police officer is hard and dangerous work. Officers are often faced with complex, fast-paced situations which, at times, threaten their lives and the lives of others.
Third, members of the public may see the police in different ways. Some see the police as pillars of the social order who get us through the worst days of their lives. Others view the police with skepticism and worry that any encounter poses the risk of being unfairly targeted and victimized.
With these realities in mind, again, our efforts were exhaustive. We talked to hundreds of people across the city. We rode with officers in their cars on patrol, and we spoke with city and union officials, judges and attorneys, advocacy groups, religious leaders and community members from different walks of life. Along with our experts, we reviewed thousands of documents regarding LMPD’s enforcement activities, and we watched thousands of hours of body worn camera footage.
We know sustainable police reform requires going beyond mere surface-level changes. It requires digging deep into the root causes of systemic problems. It requires creative ideas from many sources that can help LMPD and Louisville Metro achieve their public safety mission in line with the Constitution, federal law and the community’s values. It requires an optimism that change is possible and a hard-nosed realism about the solutions that can achieve that change.
So, to the people of Louisville, I say let your voice be a part of the change. Louisville residents have a rich history of community organizing and demanding better from your leaders. And we want your activism and engagement to energize and advance this reform process.
In the road ahead, as we focus on creating solutions that will drive real, lasting change in the city, the Justice Department will be reaching out to community members and law enforcement to hear about the kind of police department that people want for their city. We are relying on the diverse communities of this vibrant city to stay engaged, to push us, to advocate and to work with us to create a safer, more just Louisville.
As I close, I want to extend my gratitude to Mayor Greenberg, Council President Winkler and Interim Chief of Police Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel for joining us today. In addition, I want to recognize former Mayor Greg Fischer and former Chief of Police Erika Shields for their cooperation and leadership throughout our investigation.
And I also want to extend gratitude to the hundreds of people across Louisville community who worked with us throughout this investigation. Thanks to the police officers, the civil rights advocates, leaders and many others for exercising your voice in this process. Law enforcement works when the community is engaged, and we at the Justice Department thank you all.
Finally, as we prepare to embark on a path towards reform, we want the citizens of Louisville to hear us loudly and clearly, that we will stand with you every step of the way.
I’d now like to invite Mayor Greenberg to the podium.