PERF Outlines Key Lessons Learned In 20 Years of Police-DOJ Consent Decrees


The Police Executive Research Forum has published a report on lessons learned from consent decrees signed by police departments with the U.S. Department of Justice over the last two decades. The report quotes Jonathan Smith of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division as saying that the question departments should ask is not “How do you keep the Civil Rights Division from investigating?” but rather “How do we deliver police services in an effective manner that complies with the Constitution and builds public confidence?”

Criminologist Sam Walker of the University of Nebraska Omaha noted that there is a two-decade record of documents that spell out reforms taken as a result of consent decrees. “No police department should be in a position where it can be sued by the Justice Department, because the past cases make clear what is expected of them.” Some key reforms that have been adopted in many cases: Adopting strong policies on issues such as use of force; ensuring that officers are trained and managed so the policies will be followed; and developing management and supervision measures, such as an Early Intervention System, to help managers detect and respond to problems as they develop.

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