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Holder says he’s ‘prepared’ to dismantle Ferguson police department if necessary

Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will use its full authority to reform the police department in Ferguson, Mo. (Video: Reuters)

Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday the Department of Justice is ready to take any and all steps that are needed to reform the Ferguson, Mo., police department, including the potential dismantling of the force.

Speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base after a trip to South Carolina with President Obama, Holder said he was stunned by what the investigation uncovered, and will go to all necessary lengths to address racial bias and other systemic issues within the force. A Department of Justice report released Wednesday showed the police department demonstrated a pattern of racial bias and committed constitutional violations.

"We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there. That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entirely new structure," Holder said. When asked if that included dismantling the department, he said, "If that's what's necessary, we're prepared to do that."

Holder said he was "shocked" -- surprised was "not a strong enough word," he said -- by the number of people who were mistreated by the department, and the breadth of the abuses.

"The notion that you would use a law enforcement agency or law enforcement generally to generate revenue, and then the callous way in which that was done and the impact that it had on the lives of the ordinary citizens of that municipality, was just appalling. Appalling. And that is not something that we're going to tolerate," he said.

Holder said he believes what happened in Ferguson is an "anomaly," but he hopes that law enforcement agencies around the country are paying attention to his comment and the report -- that they "understand the intensity with which the feelings are felt at the federal government level to ensure that we use all the tools that we can to make sure that what happened in Ferguson is uncovered and simply does not happen in any other part of the country."

Ferguson officials will likely have to enter into an agreement or negotiate a settlement with the Department of Justice to change their police and governmental practices. If they do not, the government can bring a civil rights lawsuit against the city on behalf of its citizens.

President Obama said Friday that Ferguson is "clearly a broken and racially biased system" and brought about an "oppressive and abusive situation."