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Policy Summary: On November 7, 2018 then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the memorandum titled “Principles and Procedures for Civil Consent Decrees and Settlement Agreements with State and Local Government Entities” to the Department of Justice (DOJ). This new memorandum was issued to replace prior guidelines and to provide new guidance on how the DOJ would use consent decrees in the future. Previously, the federal government would open a lawsuit against a local police department that had a pattern and practice of police misconduct and abuse. Without any admission of guilt by local law enforcement officials, consent decrees were long term police department reform plans negotiated by federal and local officials that were supervised and enforced by a federal court. Attorney General Sessions wanted less federal oversight of local police departments and moved to diminish the use and effectiveness of federal consent decrees.

On June 8, 2020 Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced the “Justice In Policing Act” bill. The bill proposed new reforms aimed at policing issues and techniques, which come on the heels of protests over the killing of George Floyd, an African – American man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Protests have ignited across the United States and in a number of places around the world.

The bill proposes to ban police departments from using techniques such as chokeholds on persons (George Floyd died when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes despite already being handcuffed and lying on the ground on his stomach) and no – knock warrants (Breonna Taylor died when officers executed a warrant without announcing themselves on the wrong apartment where they subsequently shot and killed her). Additionally, the bill contains administrative requirements for states with one requiring the creation of an independent state commission by the state attorney general that will investigate allegations of police misconduct and police brutality in local police departments. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis: The bill that the Democrats introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday is without question a response to the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the wave of protests that have swept the United States. There are some good proposals such as the elimination of the techniques that resulted in the tragic deaths of Mr. Floyd and Ms. Taylor recently but there needs to be more wholesale change than the simple elimination of those methods. What is interesting is that the Federal Government did have a tool at their disposal to help monitor and institute change against local police departments. However, the Trump Administration and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions took steps to render the use of consent decrees today ineffective because they were opposed to the federal government having a role in monitoring local police departments.

Consent decrees to counter police misconduct and police brutality have been shown to have positive benefits. PoliceOne, an organization advocating for law enforcement officers has compiled a list of how cities with active consent decrees with the federal government have been faring in instituting change in their local police departments and their list shows that a number of cities have made meaningful improvement after working with federal authorities. Additionally, some cities have been able to implement effective deadly force trainings while some cities have even seen a decline in civil rights lawsuits against the police department. This may be due to the fact that segments of the community and civil rights groups have had a role in partnering with federal authorities to have their concerns heard. These methods to have federal authorities work with cities have seen varying levels of success and should be brought back to deal with the current police department concerns that have emerged with the eruption of protests the last week.

The “Justice In Policing Act” bill is well intentioned but it is important to know that the federal government already had in place a method that has had success in forcing change in communities that have struggled with police misconduct and police brutality incidents. Now is the time to call on the Trump Administration to utilize the consent decree again to help bring meaningful reform to police departments after the tragic events of the last two weeks. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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