U.S. Attorney André Birotte discussed the role the Department of Justice plays in helping prevent crime in Los Angeles at Protecting Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in 21st Century Los Angeles, an event sponsored by Price School of Public Policy, on Tuesday.
“To really serve the community, we must engage and listen to learn what are their needs, issues and concerns,” Birotte said.
Birotte serves as the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. With more than 18 million people, the district is the nation’s most populous. The district spans Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and 35 of the cities within the district have populations more than 100,000 people.
Birotte said the Central District of California is the most diverse in the nation and his priority is to serve the community he represents.
“Near and dear to my heart is protecting civil rights and liberties,” Birotte said. “Only 265 of us [at the office] are responsible for the entire district, so I need to prioritize. But I make sure these priorities are in line with our communities.”
Birotte said Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” inspires his daily work.
Birotte said President Barack Obama cited the same quote four years ago on April 4, while commemorating the 40th anniversary of King’s death, but Obama added, “it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us … bend[s] it in the direction of justice.”
“This was Obama’s call to action for our nation,” Birotte said. “When I use these words, I see it as a call to action here in Los Angeles.”
Birotte said three specific challenges that need to bend toward the “arc of justice” are policy and practicing of constitutional policing, constitutional policing of our jails and constitutional issues of housing and fair lending.
“No other police department is more committed than the [Los Angeles Police Department],” Birotte said. “There is no excuse to break the law in order to enforce the law. … As with the Occupy movement, I am proud that our city’s response was a success, contrasted with others. I see how far [LAPD] has come, and it became this way because of many people in this community.”
Earlier this year, Birotte’s federal law enforcement team and the Los Angeles Police Department teamed up in what was their most massive single-day accomplishment of the year, a takedown of more than 90 gang members.
“This is what we call synergy,” Birotte said. “The results speak for themselves.”
Birotte said though his department has been successful in increasing crime prosecution in Los Angeles, its work is not finished.
“Our work here is never truly finished if our goal is a society which all persons are treated fairly and equally under the law,” Birotte said. “We of the federal government will continue to work in harmony with the state, county and locals in both public and private sectors.”
Birotte said the community must stay engaged in this public policy debate.
“We can continue to bend that universal moral arc,” Birotte said.
[Correction: An earlier version of this story included a quotation from an audience member identified as a USC student. That quote has been deleted because the attribution was in error.]