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Loretta Lynch Discusses Chicago Police Department Report


Now we're going to take a few minutes to speak with a member of President Obama's Cabinet who has been making news up to the very last days of the administration, Attorney General Loretta Lynch. As the nation's highest law enforcement officer, Lynch has made her mark on the Department of Justice despite having just under two years on the job.

Under her tenure, the department has signed agreements to overhaul police practices in Baltimore and Philadelphia and most recently in Chicago. The department has pushed to charge Dylann Roof, the killer of nine people in Charleston, S.C., with a federal hate crime, resulting in the nation's first example of death penalty verdict based on federal hate crime charges. Also worth mentioning, Loretta Lynch is the first African-American woman to hold the position of attorney general.

We reached the attorney general just before her final scheduled speech in office at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. And I started our conversation by asking her if she believes that the civil rights initiatives she spearheaded will continue after she leaves office.

LORETTA LYNCH: I do. And the reason I do is because I felt that I was very much picking up on work that I had done in my first time in government. I worked on these issues in the 1990s, when I was the U.S. attorney in New York at that time. One of the most gratifying things I found when I returned to government in 2010 was how much our policing practice had expanded.

The amount of cooperation and collaboration that we get from law enforcement and community members on these issues is not only essential. It's been vital. And so I think that while, again, we don't know what the future holds and there are, of course, no guarantees, we're in a situation now where we're very much viewed as value added to this discussion and this debate.

MARTIN: Of course, you know that the person who has been nominated by President-elect Trump to succeed you in this position, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, in his confirmation hearings, which were last week, seemed to take a very different view.

He said specifically - and quoting here - that "law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable actions of a few of their bad actors." And he says that they believe the political leadership of the country has abandoned them. They have become targets. Morale has suffered. How would you answer that?

LYNCH: I don't answer it specifically because I think he's speaking from whatever his experience has been. That being said, I still believe that the work that we have done has been positive. One of the things that we've been able to do is work with the transition team for the Department of Justice as they look at all the components of the department. And we, of course, look forward to making sure that the incoming team has the information they need about this practice, so that they can actually see what works and that they can see how beneficial it's been.

MARTIN: Well, talk a little bit, if you would, about the news that was released by the department just on Friday, which was the department's investigation into the Chicago Police Department. What do you want people to draw from this report that - this year-long investigation into the practices of the Chicago Police Department, which have been so much in the news?

LYNCH: We did find a pattern or practice of unconstitutional behavior on the part of the police involving force, including deadly force. And we also found that the root cause of that, or certainly a major cause of what has led the police department to fall into this situation has been a lack of systemic training, a lack of focusing on the correct techniques, a lack of proper equipment, low morale within the department. We talked to community members who came in and told us their stories - stories of pain, stories of loss, but also stories of police officers with whom they connected and had a very positive relationship.

And we also talked to Chicago police officers who said that they wanted more than anything else to know and respect the community that they served. But it is hard to do that when you don't even have the most up-to-date equipment. And when we looked at the force training that they were receiving, not only was it out of date, it was legally incorrect. I think the Chicago report is emblematic really of where our practice is which is we try and look at how can we get the Chicago Police Department to a point where they can, in fact, patrol the city in a way that is constitutional, that is safe, but also reduces crime.

MARTIN: It sounds to me that you've enjoyed this job.

LYNCH: I have. This has been - it has been a privilege and an honor and an absolute joy to serve the people of this great country. A friend of mine said to me once, even on the worst day you have, it'll still be the best thing that you have ever done. And he was absolutely right.

MARTIN: Is there any way in which you think that you failed? I mean, obviously one of the things that's talked about is your unexpected meeting with President Clinton during the campaign season when you both happened to be in Phoenix and the president boarded your plane. There are, you know, other things that have made the news that haven't been as positive. Is there any regret that you have as you leave this office?

LYNCH: Well, I've expressed regret about that incident from the time it occurred. And I think if we look at the way in which we've been trying to make systemic change in this country, I and others in the administration very much regret that criminal justice reform did not pass as a statutory change on the Hill.

But I - what I - one thing that I have been able to have is the vantage point from this office, which is that it's the work of more than one person. It's the work of more than one group of people and the work of more than one administration. And the work that we do spans time. It spans generations. And regardless of whether there's a D or an R in front of your name, we all want the same thing. We want this country which is already great to continue along that path.

MARTIN: That was Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She joined us from Birmingham, Ala., in advance of remarks today at the 16th Street Baptist Church. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LYNCH: Thank you for having me, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.