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Holding police accountable … from Washington?

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WORLD Radio - Holding police accountable … from Washington?

Minneapolis is the latest city negotiating a consent decree with the Department of Justice


Attorney General Merrick Garland during a news conference about the Minneapolis Police Department, June 16 Abbie Parr via The Associated Press

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Local police departments and federal oversight.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS: A Department of Justice investigation found MPD engaged in a pattern of racial bias and used excessive force violating people's civil rights.

Audio heard there from ABC 5 Eyewitness News in June. Back in 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland launched the investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. His goal was to discern what led to the death of George Floyd in police custody in May 2020. Here’s Garland announcing the results of that probe in a press conference last month

GARLAND: We observed many MPD officers who did their difficult work with professionalism, courage, and respect. But the patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible.

REICHARD: The report concluded that Minneapolis PD regularly uses excessive force and discriminates against black people, Native Americans, and disabled people.

In response, the DOJ recommended federal oversight until the department can prove it is making changes. In the coming weeks, Minneapolis will likely negotiate the terms of the agreement— called a consent decree —with the federal government.

The city will join 14 other police departments operating under federal oversight. So what are consent decrees? And, more importantly, do we have evidence that they work?

BROWN: WORLD’s Compassion reporter, Addie Offereins, says consent decrees are basically roadmaps that federal judges give to police departments. They replace unconstitutional policing practices with lawful ones.

OFFEREINS: So it kind of lays out here's the boxes you need to check, and here's the requirements you need to complete before federal oversight of your department can end. And often these consent decrees are enforced and supervised by a third party monitor that is hired to do that day to day supervision.

REICHARD: Sounds straightforward? Well, maybe not. Some people on the local level say that these consent decrees unnecessarily outsource the accountability required to fix police departments.

BROWN: One of those skeptics is public defender Lisa Daugaard. In 2011, she worked with the Seattle Police Department to create a program that sent drug offenders to rehab instead of prison.

Just one year later, the police department received a consent decree after the DOJ identified a pattern of using excessive force. Daugaard says the Justice Department didn’t want suggestions from her or other locals who had spent years advocating for reform.

DAUGAARD: You know, many of us in this community were and are experts on what's going on whether the best solutions were actively involved in creating the solutions. And to not be treated as real partners, it was super disempowering, and also counterproductive. Because it's being driven by experts who don't live here won't be around, you know, when and if it ever ends.

REICHARD: More than 10 years later, Seattle is still waiting for a federal judge to decide if they can exit the consent decree.

Some people believe that the extended timeline isn’t an accident. Law professor Peter Moskos:

MOSKOS: And perhaps that's the greatest problem with a consent decree is the people who decide it's over are getting paid as long as it continues.

Moskos is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He’s also a former police officer.

MOSKOS: I mean, look, I don't want to impugn all of them. But there is that there is a I mean, Oakland has been in a consent decree for decades now.

BROWN: In California, the Oakland Police Department has come close to finishing its 20-year consent decree several times. But scandal after scandal has kept it in place. And earlier this year, a judge in Connecticut finally ended federal oversight of the Hartford Police Department, nearly 50 years after it began in 1973.

MOSKOS: And we're ignoring the fact that murders have nearly tripled in some of these cities.

REICHARD: Moskos is concerned that reducing violent crime isn’t a priority under a consent decree. It’s not one of the boxes to check, even though crime prevention is a police department’s primary responsibility.

MOSKOS: But policing primarily has to be about reducing crime, fear of crime and disorder, and also holding police accountable to those objectives and when police misbehave, either departmentally or criminally.

BROWN: In addition to federal consent decreees, states also use them to hold cities accountable. That complicates things. Dorothy Moses Schulz is a retired police captain and Manhattan Institute fellow. She pointed to Minneapolis PD's separate consent decree with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

SCHULZ: The council is still working on a lot of changes. At the state level, there were a lot of changes. I just didn't see this particular consent decree as necessary, it seemed to me like piling on.

REICHARD: Daugaard, the public defender in Seattle, also believes Minneapolis should have stuck with state and city-level reforms. That’s because she thinks local oversight is more likely to bring meaningful change than can Washington bureaucrats.

DAUGAARD: And it takes a lot of work by a lot of people to make real progress. There's no way you have to do it with at least some allies in the police department and consent decrees just are not good at generating those.

BROWN: This story was written by WORLD's Compassion reporter, Addie Offereins. You can find a link in today’s transcript to learn more.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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