Over the past two decades, the U.S. Department of Justice has intervened in 16 U.S. police departments that had patterns of excessive or deadly force, implementing reforms under the watch of independent monitors, reports the Washington Post and Frontline. More than its predecessors, the Obama administration has aggressively pursued police departments over abuses, recently launching probes after individuals died as a result of encounters with police in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. Do such interventions work? The Justice Department has not studied the long-term outcomes at the agencies it has targeted.
The two news organizations visited four cities, interviewing officials, federal monitors and civil rights advocates. They also reviewed use-of-force data, monitoring reports and local budgets. The reforms have led to modernized policies, new equipment and better training, police chiefs, city leaders, activists and federal officials agree. Measured by incidents of use of force, one of DOJ's primary metrics, the outcomes are mixed. In five of the 10 police departments for which sufficient data was provided, use of force by officers increased during and after the agreements. In five others, it stayed the same or declined. None of the departments completed reforms by the targeted dates. In most, the interventions have dragged years beyond original projections, driving up costs. In 13 of the police departments for which budget data was available, costs are expected to surpass $600 million, expenses largely passed on to local taxpayers. Officer morale in some departments plummeted during the interventions.