Biden Justice Department slams police misconduct – Reason.com

The deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. Featured prominently in last year’s nationwide protests against police abuse. In April, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced investigations into the police departments in the two cities.

The announcements reported that the Justice Department under President Joe Biden was increasing its civil rights division to investigate systemic police misconduct. The effort represents a sharp turnaround for the DOJ under President Donald Trump, who insisted the problem with the US police was limited to a few bad apples.

The Obama administration has launched 25 of these “model or practice” investigations designed to determine whether a police service regularly violates federal law or the Constitution. The Civil Rights Division has issued scathing reports of widespread misconduct, excessive force and unconstitutional policing in cities such as Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri. Investigations often resulted in court-imposed settlements, known as “consent orders,” which imposed policy changes.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general, complained that Justice Department reports unfairly smeared entire departments and that consent decrees tied the hands of local officials, subjecting cities to onerous and costly surveillance from federal judges. The struggling Oakland, Calif., Police Department, for example, has been subject to a federal consent decree since 2003, and Oakland officials estimate the city has spent $ 28 million trying to comply. court demands.

“These lawsuits undermine respect for police officers and give the impression that the entire department is not doing its job in accordance with loyalty to the law and fairness,” Sessions said during his confirmation hearing in the Senate in 2017. “We have to be careful before doing this.”

While prosecutions of police officers and prison guards continued more or less at their usual pace under Sessions, investigations of entire departments came to a halt. Trump’s Justice Department has released the findings of just one model or practice investigation: an investigation into a hugely corrupt narcotics unit in Springfield, Massachusetts.

One of the latest steps Sessions took was to sharply limit the time when the Department of Justice could enter consent decrees. Vanita Gupta, who headed the civil rights division under the Obama administration, called the policy “a slap in the face of the dedicated career staff in the department who work tirelessly to uphold our country’s civil rights laws. “. The Biden administration rescinded the Sessions directive, and Gupta is now back at the Department of Justice as associate attorney general.

Sessions was right that consent decrees should be used judiciously. The investigations and regulations of the Department of Justice are a heavy tax on the federal authority. But they can also provide a remedy for citizens who have been betrayed by rotten police departments and indifferent local governments.


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Estelle D. Eden

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