Federal Consent Decrees on Police Have Positive Results

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Over the nearly 20 years the U.S. Justice Department has gone to court to force changes in police agencies in more than two dozen cities, the results have largely been positive, according to data and criminologists, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some police say the government agreements with cities have cost too much and taken too long to implement. Some activists say the agreements, which often require extra training in use of force and better tracking of personnel issues, don’t go far enough. “Consent decrees certainly do work,” said Ronal Serpas of Loyola University New Orleans, who was the city’s police chief in 2012 when it signed on to reforms. “These agreements give you a road map, though it doesn’t mean things change with the snap of a finger.”

In Baltimore, a pending agreement with DOJ that awaits court approval would require a community oversight task force for police in addition to officer training in deescalation and implicit bias. While the Justice Department rushed to release the Baltimore pact before Barack Obama left office, the road ahead is unclear in the Trump administration. “There can be backsliding,” said Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska, who specializes in police accountability. “One thing it often depends on is who is leading police and how much they invest in change.” Under Obama, the Justice Department entered into agreements with 12 police departments, four times as many as under President George W. Bush. Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, said during his confirmation hearing that current decrees with police departments would “remain in force until and if they are changed,” adding that they were not “necessarily a bad thing.” Experts say it’s too early to assess the results of consent decrees signed in recent years for cities such as Cleveland, or Ferguson, Mo.

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