DOJ Consent Decrees on Police Have Had Mixed Results

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Seattle police, considered to use force too fast and too often, reached an agreement with the Justice Department that trained officers on how to handle people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. Residents’ attitudes toward police improved, reports the Associated Press. New Orleans police, plagued by decades of corruption and abuse, came to a similar court-enforced agreement that led to improvements in sexual assault investigations and changes to department policy. The 2012 consent decree is expected to cost $55 million; critics say it requires officers to do time-consuming paperwork when they could be patrolling. As Attorney General Jeff Sessions signals his department may back out of agreements with troubled police departments, a look at some of them shows they can be popular but also carry mixed results.

“There’s no question that some of these consent decrees are arduous and complicated, but they will (force cities to) provide the kind of resources the department very often needs,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, whose study of consent decrees found them costly but useful in dealing with broad issues. The Obama Justice Department saw such probes as essential in holding local law enforcement accountable for unconstitutional practices such as excessive force and racial bias. It opened two dozen investigations of police departments, 14 of which ended in consent decrees. Cities cite benefits as well as drawbacks. “Consent decrees take a major toll on local elected officials, police departments and stakeholders,” said John Gaskin III of the NAACP in Ferguson, Mo., whose leaders entered into an agreement after Michael Brown’s shooting death in 2014.  Gaskin said, “I hope we don’t turn back the clock with this decision” by Sessions.


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