U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Calls on Administration to Recommit to Police Oversight
After former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum reducing the ability of federal law enforcement officials to curb police abuse state-by-state, on November 15, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called on the Justice Department to recommit to police oversight, including the use of binding consent decrees in order to promote constitutional policing and police reform agreements. The report—titled “Police Use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices”— takes a close look at police shootings and use of force, especially against young black men, that have led to protests across the country in recent years.
The Commission was created under the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as a bipartisan, fact-finding, independent agency with a mission to enhance the enforcement of civil rights laws and inform the development of national civil rights policies. In its report, the Commission offers very specific recommendations for how the federal government can prevent incidents like these in the future, including improving federal data collection on incidents by requiring that local jurisdictions submit data in order to receive federal funding, increasing grant funding for reform efforts, signing consent decrees at the local level, and increasing overall training for officers. The Commission maintains that actions like these will not only recommit the nation to principles of equal treatment and fairness, but help stem the tide of conflict between police officers and their communities.
The Importance of Consent Decrees & Other Reforms
Meanwhile, the current administration has castigated consent decrees as expensive and undemocratic; as federal overreach that removes important decisions from local officials and departments. Sessions previously tried to block the consent decree entered into with the Baltimore Police Department in particular, where widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing was found as the result of a Justice Department investigation. The consent decree was part of a negotiation with the city to institute some reforms, including those that relate to police use of force, interactions with minority communities and protesters, protocol for searches and seizures, staffing, patrols and stops, and the use of technology.
Consent decrees have been shows to improve police departments’ constitutional treatment of citizens, as well reduce their use of force. In addition to their use, the Commission strongly feels that creating and relying on a national database of police use of force incidents and releasing the names of jurisdictions that fail to submit data, as well as providing training for officers on alternative use of force, de-escalation tactics, and early intervention systems would help support citizen civil rights. The Commission also recommends that independent prosecutors and investigations—rather than local ones—handle use of force cases.
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