Monday, January 16, 2017


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.
Although 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.
The “pattern 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 riots.

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 “dangerous,” writing 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.”
Continue reading the main story
Even some 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.
Mr. Sessions wrote in his critique of consent decrees in 2008 that he is aware of that strategy.
“Such decrees 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 agree]
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."
Quite 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.


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