Justice Department puts limits on local police oversight

Justice Department puts limits on local police oversight

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told the nation’s law enforcement officials on Monday that the Justice Department would curtail the power of monitors who oversee local police departments that carry out federally mandated reform plans.

Law enforcement officials praised the announcement. He has long argued that monitors, who earn lucrative consulting fees while police forces make changes, encourage departments to hold off on such overhaul plans for too long.

Mr. Garland’s remarks come as the Justice Department under the Biden administration has increased its investigation of policing practices by launching an investigation into allegations of abuse patterns by forces in Minneapolis; Louisville, Q.; and Phoenix, a city that saw high-profile cases of civilian killings by authorities.

Such investigations often lead to so-called consent decrees, court-approved deals between the Justice Department and local governments that create and implement a road map for training and operational changes. Monitors are appointed to oversee the agreements.

“While consent decrees and monitoring are important tools to increase transparency and accountability, the department must do more to improve their efficiency and efficacy,” said Mr. Garland via video at the International Association of Chiefs Annual Conference Said in comment. police.

“Organizational change takes time, but a consent decree cannot last forever,” Mr Garland said.

He said the department would immediately take 19 actions to address the police’s concerns, including putting a cap on monitors’ fees and assessing their work after a set period to determine whether their contracts should be renewed. Whether or not the consent decree should be terminated.

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And the department will restrict the monitor from working in multiple cases at the same time.

“Monitoring is a public service, and there should be no question that the Monitor’s commitment is to the department and community they serve – not to their bottom line,” Mr. Garland said.

The actions are the result of a 120-day review of monitor and consent orders, which began shortly after Garland and his top deputies were confirmed to lead the Justice Department in March and April.

The review was led by Associate Attorney General, Vanitha Gupta, and included more than 50 hearing sessions with police and other local officials, mayors, civil rights advocates and the monitors themselves. Ms. Gupta shared her findings and 19 recommended actions in a memorandum addressed to Mr. Garland on Monday.

His recommendations include more than two decades of complaints from law enforcement officers, said Chuck Wexler, a former police officer in Boston and executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement organization dedicated to improving police professionalism. . The group released a report in 2013 that outlined many of the issues the Justice Department addressed Monday.

Mr Wexler said he hopes the department’s plan will make consent decrees more credible, effective and accountable in the eyes of police and citizens.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “That’s what we’ve asked for. It creates accountability in a process that requires accountability.”

Mr Wexler said this spring, Mr Garland and Ms Gupta made clear in a meeting with law enforcement officials that the Biden administration intended to use consent decrees where appropriate to overhaul police departments – a practice Which was the hallmark of the Obama administration’s civil rights agenda and all but ended during the Trump administration.

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But Mr. Wexler said officials acknowledged that he and his colleagues had concerns about the use of monitors as part of the consent decree process, and added that Ms. Gupta would take a broader look at the monitors and issue recommendations.

Ms Gupta’s memorandum outlines the principles for effective monitoring: The position should be designed to minimize costs, avoid conflicts of interest or their presence, and work efficiently. The memorandum states that monitors should consistently use standards to assess police departments and maintain liaison with the community.

He recommended changes that Mr. Garland immediately adopted. According to the memo, beyond the fee limit, the department will impose a term for monitors which can be renewed only by a court after assessment.

A future consent decree would also require a hearing after five years so that local governments can determine whether police forces have made progress and whether the consent decree should be abolished. If departments fall short of full compliance within five years, officials at the hearing can consolidate a plan “to cross the finish line in short order,” the memo said.

Ms Gupta’s memorandum said the department “restricted monitors to work on one case at a time to dispel any impression that surveillance is a cottage industry.”

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