By Dr. Ray Kessler, who is, incidentally, a retired Prof. of Criminal Justice, former defense attorney and prosecutor is your host. I am also a part-time instructor in Criminal Justice at Richland College, an outstanding, 2-year institution in Dallas, TX.
Note that I do NOT select which ads run on the blog.
Monday, January 16, 2017
FEDERAL REFORM OF POLICE
When the media talk about federal intervention to deal with police abuses,
they are almost always, if not always, talking about settlements of federal
pattern and practice lawsuits or actual implementations following a ruling
against the police (see below).
“Looking to the federal government to rein in police excesses can be an
exercise in managed expectations. . . On Friday, Chicago
agreed to revamp its police department after the Justice Department found
routine use of excessive force, and the mayor said he would negotiate a
court-enforced settlement, known as a consent decree. But that is no guarantee
of results — and not just because the man most likely to be the next attorney
general has said he is skeptical of such endeavors.
Attempts to force change
in police departments have met with mixed success even under the Obama
administration, which made police reform a signature issue. It has opened 25
investigations into law enforcement agencies over issues like excessive force,
racial bias and poor supervision, issuing reports
choking with outrage.
there were successes in L.A. and elsewhere, ”. . Pittsburgh, the
target of the first consent decree based on a Justice Department finding of
a “pattern and practice” of misconduct, later backslid after changes in
leadership, said Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University
of Nebraska at Omaha [Walker is probably the nation’s top expert on police
abuses and possible remedies.I highly
recommend his work]. And while Miami reduced police shootings to zero for 20
months after a federal investigation in 2002 that was later closed with no
settlement, the Justice Department in 2013 reinvestigated and found
a pattern of excessive force with firearms, underscoring some experts’ view
that consent decrees or other settlements are needed for enduring improvements.
Last year, Miami settled the 2013 inquiry by agreeing to improve supervision,
training and internal investigations.
and practice” approach developed after the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles
in 1991 forced a period of national introspection over how to curb misconduct
if individual officers could not be held accountable. A jury’s decision not to
convict the four officers charged in the attack on Mr. King incited deadly
Since the early
attempts, Mr. Walker said, consent decrees have evolved to be more
sophisticated and comprehensive. “The general pattern is that there is some
backsliding on some issues,” he said, “but I don’t think there’s a case where a
department has completely collapsed back to where it was before.” . . .
Still, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and the nominee for
attorney general under President-elect Donald J. Trump, called them
in 2008 that they “constitute an end run around the democratic process.” At
his confirmation hearing this past week, he softened that critique, saying
there were some circumstances that legitimately demanded consent decrees and
that those already in place would be enforced."
Some reform advocates have expressed fears that the Trump administration
will fail to investigate police departments or enforce consent decrees, robbing
them of what they view as a crucial lever to compel change.”
police chiefs might mourn a retreat from consent decrees. Baltimore’s police
commissioner, Kevin Davis, has said that a consent decree would aid community
relations. Charles H. Ramsey, who as Washington’s police chief invited the
Justice Department to review his department, said, “The DOJ gives legitimacy to
the changes that you’re making.”
Chiefs may want
consent decrees in order to insulate them from political and union opposition
to change, as well as make it easier to demand money to pay for reforms.
wrote in his critique of consent decrees in 2008 that he is aware of that
are particularly offensive when certain governmental agencies secretly delight
in being sued because they hope a settlement will be reached resulting in the
agency receiving more money,” he wrote. “Thus, the taxpayers ultimately fund
the settlement enacted through this undemocratic process.” [This is slightly
misleading as the mayor, and city council, elected officials, also have to
But, Mr. Sessions said,
lawsuits could unfairly target whole police departments for the misdeeds of a
few bad actors. “These lawsuits undermine the respect for police officers and
create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work
consistent with fidelity to law and fairness,” he said. His critique did not
extend to how well consent decrees actually work. But experts say that even
systemic changes, like greater oversight of officers’ use of force, can be slow
to yield results."
frankly, such lawsuits are just about the only effective remedy available.Self-reform rarely works. To limit or abolish
them will have negative effects of many, including black communities.Opposition to such suits, in my opinion could
be a latent seal of approval for what these agencies are doing.Many people want the police to crack down
violently on the dangerous classes.White
supremacists are opposed to the suits because they will benefit blacks
disproportionately and pose a threat to white supremacy.Opposition is especially strong in the South.
Many local politicians who overtly or
covertly support white supremacy don’t want to lose control of their police,
even temporarily, to the feds.