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The return of federal consent decrees

Melvin B. Miller

There is a great need for the reformation of police departments across the country. The level of police violence is out of hand. According to the New York Times, there have been 64 killings by police across the country during the 20 days of the Minneapolis trial of Derek Chauvin for excessive force. Change is difficult to achieve because police departments are subject to municipal, county or state authority.

An effective strategy during the Obama Administration was to find violations of constitutional rights or federal law. The U.S. Justice Department would then have the right to take legal action against police officers or the department administration. It is unlikely that a police department would survive such an inquiry without disclosing numerous federal violations.

The solution was for the police department to negotiate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office  a plan of action to remedy the offensive police. They would execute a consent decree that would enable the Justice Department to have oversight to assure corrective action. As simple and as effective as this approach was, however, Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, restricted the use of consent decrees.

Joe Biden’s Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has now reversed that recusation  order. The executive branch will have the authority to investigate police departments that are violating the civil rights of citizens. This access could lead to consent decrees to protect against police abuse.

criminal justice reform, Department of Justice consent decrees, police corruption