Task Force Calls for Expanded Federal Role in Investigating Police Misconduct

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The U.S. Department of Justice must “dramatically” expand the federal government’s capacity to investigate police misconduct — including anything related to improper stops, searches and seizures, as well as arrests — on top of excessive use-of-force claims, says the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

The recommendation was contained in the latest set of policy papers released Thursday by the CCJ’s Task Force on Policing, aimed at rethinking U.S. law enforcement practices.

Earlier, the Task Force issued recommendations on chokehold bans, duty-to-intervene policies, and no-knock warrants in January, and highlighted widespread deficiencies in police training in March.

The 11-member panel, comprising law enforcement members, civil rights advocates, and community leaders, agreed that the current efforts to address excessive use-of-force cases and other instances of officer misconduct “too often come up short, leaving the victim uncompensated and the wrongdoer unpunished.”

“With more than 1,000 community members losing their lives in encounters with law enforcement each year, it is crucial that our systems of investigation, indictment, and prosecution of police officers are transparent and equitable, and that we hold the guilty accountable,” said Task Force Executive Director Nancy La Vigne.

“Using the most recent and rigorous research to guide them, Task Force members have produced a set of recommendations that can help us fix what is broken.”

The main recommendation address the concepts of more aggressive federal oversight, disciplinary efforts, and rethinking civilian oversight.

An enhanced federal role in police oversight, including the maintenance of a national database of decertified officers and setting standards for body-worn cameras, can reinforce the efforts of state attorneys-general, the Task Force said.

The report cites research from the University of Chicago Crime Lab showing that the benefits of recording devices outweighs their cost, and argues that jurisdictions should require officers to turn them on when interacting with the public.

A national data base of decertified officers is similarly essential, said the Task Force, noting that officers who are terminated for misconduct in one agency but find employment elsewhere “puts communities at risk, and erodes public confidence in police.”

“Police officers who misuse force once are more likely to do so again,” the Task Force declared,

See Also: Toughening Police Decertification an Uphill Battle for States September, 2020

 Rethinking Civilian Oversight

 The Task Force also said civilian oversight boards were critical to achieving transparency and accountability.

Most civilian oversight agencies operate in an advisory capacity; it’s rare for them to have disciplinary authority. Instead, their recommendations are offered to the police chief or commissioner.

A survey of civilian oversight agencies uncovered that while a large majority (78 percent) reported that police executives “listen carefully” to their recommendations, less than half (46 percent) believe that police leaders actually implement their guidance, according to the CCJ Task Force report.

This connects to the fact that research has overall yielded mixed findings about their ability to reduce excessive use of force and other forms of police misconduct, the report details.

To that end, drawing from case studies and an analysis by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), the Task Force found that complementary or alternative models like independent civil rights review units housed in prosecutor’s offices and other independent oversight commissions granted subpoena power may be more effective than civilian oversight boards when looking to hold officers accountable, the Task Force details.

“Oversight panels that enhance public perceptions of transparency and accountability could indirectly improve safety,” the Task Force report said.

“One study found that civilian oversight with broad authority is associated with reductions in violent crime.”

 Other key recommendations from The Council on Criminal Justice Task Force include:

      • Policymakers should address enforcement gaps by passing laws, defining use-of-force and civil rights violations; and,
      • The Justice Department should substantially expand its voluntary Collaborative Reform Initiative, which provides police departments with a review of agency policies and practices and officers technical assistance.

 The Council on Criminal Justice is a nonpartisan membership organization and think tank created to advance understanding of the criminal justice policy challenges facing the nation and builds consensus for solutions based on facts, evidence, and fundamental principles of justice.

The full report, including separate policy papers on civilian oversight and decertification, can be accessed here.

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